Disclaimer: This review includes spoilers to plotlines in later books I have marked these sections of the review with spoilers in bold.
During the lockdown, I have been reading a lot more. One book I decided to re-acquaint myself with can be categorised into my guilty reads section. Having rediscovered the book I thought I would share on my site. I re-read this book because it is fun and easy. The story is entirely plot-driven which allows you to get into the story without literary headaches.
Crazy Rich Asain, follows the story of a young couple named Rachel Chu and Nick Young. Having established successful careers and a relationship in New York, Nick Young invites Rachel to visit Singapore for the summer. Rachel is thrilled at the prospect of meeting Nick’s family. However, what she doesn’t know is Nick Young’s family are among the most affluent in Singapore. What Nick doesn’t know is his family are not about to accept an unknown ABC (American Born Chinses) into their circle.
The story could be likened to a soap opera with stereotypical chick-lit tropes. What makes this book stand out from the stereotyped story of the poor girl exposed to a new world of wealth is we travel to the east. Kevin Kwan takes familiar tropes and places the narrative into a new culture. By doing this the readers are able to engage in new cultures whilst laughing along the way. I personally enjoyed how Mandarin slang was utilised, allowing readers to learn different terms. Because each character had a strong voice the reader does not get lost in this newfound world filled with loanwords.
For anyone only familiar with Crazy Rich Asians because of the 2018 movie adaption, I would suggest reading the book. Aside from a more in-depth list of character to follow there are several plotlines that are changed and simplified in the film.
There are several subplots within the story which is definitely due to a large host of characters. To name but a few we have, Goh Peik Lin and her family (i.e the best friend to Rachel), Edison Cheng who is the spoiled cousin of Nick, Colin (the best friend of Nick), Astrid (Nick’s cousin) who is famed for her beauty. Nick’s grandmother and then, of course, Eleanor and her group of socialite friends.
Whilst Rachel is a likeable character she comes across very one dimensional when surrounded by the colourful entourage. In the end, I found I was reading mainly for the fictitious exploits of the rich and shameless.
I personally loved how stern Eleanor’s character is throughout the book. I particularly liked the downright catty narration in her own mind. One scene that sticks to mind is when Rachel hands her a mandarin; (the fruit is gifted and symbolises auspicious and prosperous) throughout the scene Eleanor is thinking about how common and stupid Rachel all whilst thanking her. Indeed, Eleanore just breaths out pure sass throughout the book, she is the character you love to hate her. You can get a gist of her power within the first few pages of the book when she takes ownership of a London hotel following racism from the concierge.
Whilst Nick’s mother is the most difficult for Rachel to impress, she’s certainly not the only one who disapproves of the newfound couple. Most of the family is against their unity. The story takes a turn when Eleonore uncovers that Rachel’s father is in prison. Rachel is left shocked and humiliated having had no idea of her heritage. The reader later learns that the man in jail is not Rachel’s biological father.
This is where the book and the film differ in the narrative. Spoilers: Rachel’s mother was subject to an abusive marriage with equally horrible in-laws. As a result, she found comfort in another man’s arms. When she became pregnant she lied to her husband and his family to avoid becoming homeless. To her shock, the family became thrilled she was pregnant. The family are eager for a baby boy to carry on the line and are foretold of a young man. However, the in-law’s attitude soon sours after she gives birth to a baby girl was born. Due to china’s one-child policy, all couples were banned from having a second baby unless the baby had a handicap. Thus a plan was devised by the in-laws to blind the baby girl forcing Rachels’ mother to flee to the USA. This was changed in the movie adaption and is simplified to the fact her mother was running away from an abusive relationship.
Out of the many other character’s I had a personal fondness for Astrid. The character posses a likeable charm owing to the fact she does not like to brag about her riches. Spoiler: Throughout the book, Astrid spends most her time trying to salvage her marriage with Micheal. Her husband is a self-made man who is disliked by the Young family due to the fact he is not born of riches. Much of the book is spent with Astrid trying to discover if her husband is having an affair. By the end of the book, Astrid discovers that her husband’s affair is entirely fabricated. Micheal had constructed this in the hopes she would want to divorce him because he can no longer able to deal with the outsider status and Astrid’s cold family. Despite her own painful path, Astrid retains a friendly manner with Rache even helping her on occasion. Comparatively in the film version, Astrid is given a stronger role, one key difference being that Astrid makes the decision to leave her husband following his genuine infidelity.
The book concludes with Rachel deciding to take things slower with Nick Young and having gratitude for her loving and humble beginnings. In general, there is a real underlying theme of love and honour showing us that money cannot buy you everything.
I would certainly recommend this book for anyone who enjoys chick-lit and rom-com. It is also a great read in lockdown as you get to travel to different locations, Singapore, London, New York, Paris and Hong Kong to name but a few.