I first heard about Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians when Lynn Chen broke the news that she was reading for the audiobook version. With a publication date of June 11, it is just in time for summer and a light, escapism read of an Asian-American lit bend… just up my alley after the past three months.
Since I had an exam on June 14, I didn’t get the audiobook (via Audible.com) until four days after the novel’s release and I listened to the 11-hour audiobook as much as I could on the weekend!
I’ve been “racing” through reading this book because it so so very easy to digest, even though I have three months off from studying, there’s a stack of books (less easy to digest) that I want to get through, it is so very hot off the presses, and I want to be finished before the Vancouver book launch on June 20!
The story centers on Nicholas Young and Rachel Chu, professors at NYU who meet in New York and date for two years before he invites her to visit Singapore with him for a summer and where he is best man at his best friend’s wedding. She is a pretty typical Asian American woman and has no idea how much money is actually behind Nicholas who she knows only as a very good looking, well-mannered academic.
Astrid is Nicholas’ cousin and they get along famously because they are a little different from the rest of their pretentious and gaudily showy clan of elders and cousins. Her tastes run true French and she’s a syle icon among her set. Also in contrast to the rest, she married for love and doesn’t live in a mansion-come-palace with her husband, Michael, a software developer, and son Cassian. Not all is perfect, however, starting after she picks up a mobile phone when she hears the text message alert, reads the message “miss u inside me” and realizes she is holding her husband’s phone …
Eddie is another of Nicholas’ cousins and who is married to Fiona Tung and has two children. His parents are one of the more practical branches of the three families that have united in marriage and he is horribly embarrassed by them and even his own wife and children when they do not flaunt their wealth the only way he knows how to. He is eternally frustrated because he is not as wealthy as his friends while he believes he deserves their wealth more than they do; Eddie is generally a philandering and self-absorbed rat who has it coming to him somehow …
Pik Lin is Rachel’s friend and they met in the U.S. Pik Lin’s family made their money more recently and they haven’t heard of Nicholas’ family because the family is so very private. But as Pik Lin gets a whiff of the money and mystery, she and her whole family are very curious and it might have to do with Pik Lin still being single and very eligible …
Eleanor Young, who only learns about Rachel because Nicholas is bringing her to Singapore, goes into suspicious and protective mode. Who is this Rachel Chu? Her circle of cronies fan the flames of the fire and they go on a trip to Shenzhen (hilariously compared to Tijuana) to meet up with an informer who has done investigation into Rachel’s past, information that will come in handy later …
The upcoming wedding provides an excuse to have many parties for each of Nicholas and Rachel to attend and the opulence of house, entertainment and dress of jet-setting super-rich are described in great and fun detail. Jackie Collins provided a positive blurb, “Original and fun, Crazy Rich Asians is quite a roller coaster trip. I loved it!” I have not read anything by Jackie Collins but suppose Crazy Rich Asians is similar in genre?
As it turns out, June is Audiobook Month and I felt obliged from learning Lynn Chen is doing the audiobook and I’m a fan of her work, to “read” the novel in audio form. Normally (i.e., this time last year), I’d be super stoked to zone out to a fun and absorbing audiobook while working out in the condo gym or tidying up my apartment but this year I’m just surfing the net while listening – doesn’t feel quite as productive.
It’s not even the first audiobook I’ve listened to, but the experience seems strange when I would normally have read this kind of novel in print, savoured the words on paper and bookmarked my favourite passages such as “how to budget to run a crazy-rich household” and “how to follow the predetermined steps in the life cycle of a crazy rich Singaporean female”. How is everyone’s name spelled? What spelling did Kevin Kwan use for Romanization of the different Chinese dialects? Is the new ejaculation I’ve learned, “Alamak!” spelled as it sounds? (Yes.)
Were it not for the audiobook and Lynn Chen’s reading of it, I would not have imagined all of the different dialects, accents and voices people would have. Lynn differentiates from one character to another and I can laugh because when it comes to the tacky aunts’ accents, oh, I’ve heard those ones before! And I admire the effort that went into switching between accents and keeping it consistent.
My only nit-picking is Lynn’s pronunciation of the Chinese expressions peppered through the novel. A large part of my enjoyment of reading Asian-American/Canadian literature is learning about my language. A simple example is “hoisin sauce” that came late in the novel but I had already suspected something is up with her accent, and I know she speaks Mandarin and may not know any other Chinese dialect. Lynn had read “HOY sin”, kind of the way an American Anglophone might approach the word. In Cantonese, it is pronounce “hoy SEEN” and the Pinyin is “hai xian” so I wondered how Lynn was coached to pronounced a great deal of the words I’m venturing to guess she did not previously know. It was an interesting guessing game to me what the Chinese expression was, even if a definition followed and I completely understand the motivation, for the sake of the average Audible consumer, to pronounce the words as they are spelled.
Author Kevin Kwan spent his early years in Singapore so he writes from experience the excess in riches in the country (how much of his personal experience??). Novels set in Singapore are not so common as those set in China or involving Chinese or American- or Canadian-born Chinese characters. So it’s a great delight to learn in this fun format the Singaporean view of mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. I often want to just characterize Singaporeans as Chinese but they’ve certainly created a unique culture all their own.
The American cover of the novel looks dusted with gold glitter and the type is hot pink. It is a cover worthy of a Jackie Collins or Danielle Steel novel, I think. I wondered with the title and the sometime insinuation “these Asians are richer than all of you on this planet” would turn off readers who don’t want to believe that or read about that. But you know what? The crazy rich in the novel recognize the beauty in Western art and design and incorporate it into their homes – so there’s homage in that. Furthermore, it’s a satire so you know that the more dressed up a character is, the more that character really is lacking. Vulgarity of the rich, family and relationship strife, the head-slapping cattiness of women and their eventual downfall will speak across the cultures and entice all readers of this genre alike.