Crazy Rich Asians is a hoot of a book that is so much fun that once I started it, I couldn’t stop reading. I picked it up because it has a fabulous cover and it got me with the opening pages – a hysterically annotated genealogy of the ridiculously powerful and outrageously rich Young, T’Sien, and Chang families who seem to, if not rule, at least run Singapore.
The story opens in London with the three soaking wet, cold and tired Young sisters and their children being denied access to the toney Calthorpe Hotel by an officious xenophobic hotel manager. How this conundrum is resolved is as fantastic as the moment in “Pretty Woman” when Vivian gets to go back into the store that rejected her the day before and say, “You work on commission, right? Big mistake. Big. Huge.”
The story hops from that brilliant moment to the present with Nick Young, who is working as an Associate Professor of History in New York, asking his girlfriend, Rachel Chu to accompany him to his cousin’s wedding in Singapore and then spend the summer traveling around Asia. Nick is unbelievably handsome, kind, warm and winning so it takes her about 5 minutes to say yes. She has no idea about his family or the depth of his wealth so when Nick is greeted by name by the stewardess as they are taken to their own private cabin on their Singapore Airlines flight she is a little startled and over-awed but in true princess-in-the-making style, accepts it all with aplomb.
When they land in Singapore and she starts to meet his friends and family, Rachel realizes bit by bit that her Associate Professor is actually the scion of one of the oldest, most powerful, and richest families in Asia. He is also a catch on the level of Prince William and the knives are out for Rachel. Luckily the right people are in her corner and her best friend from college just happens to also be fabulously wealthy and living in Singapore ready to lend a shoulder to cry on and several necessary couture outfits.
If you mashed “Real Housewives” with “Dynasty” and added a strong dose of steroids you’ll get an idea of the over-the-top wealth and catty family battles that the author makes hysterical and mesmerizing. People are constantly jetting on private planes to private islands or Paris runways and working hard to not let anyone else into their exclusive clubs and families. Kwan could have made all these people cardboard stereotypes but in a very Jane Austen way he brings them all to unique life and uses them to tell the story while subtly skewering them through their absurd behavior.
As much fun as all the clothes and jewels and privilege is, this is a love story and Nick and Rachel do not disappoint. The ending has the right amount of crossed wires uncrossing and issues happily resolved and is completely satisfying – though there is a sequel, which I can’t wait to read.
This book is complete escapism. It is the perfect book to read on vacation or when you really need a vacation. Just be careful because after you read it, you will expect that you should be on a jet headed to your own island wearing vintage 25 carat Indian sapphire earrings that compliment the hot-off-the-runway Dries Van Noten dress your divine boyfriend just bought you because it’s so easy to travel in instead of heading home to Queens, crumpled and tired, on the 7 train.