Book: Rich People Problems

"Rich People Problems"

When Nicholas Young hears that his grandmother, Su Yi, is on her deathbed, he rushes to be by her side–but he’s not alone. The entire Shang-Young clan has convened from all corners of the globe to stake claim to their matriarch’s massive fortune. With each family member vying to inherit Tyersall Park–a trophy estate on sixty-four prime acres in the heart of Singapore–Nicholas’s childhood home turns into a hotbed of backbiting and intrigue. As Su Yi’s relatives fight over heirlooms, Astrid Leong is at the center of her own storm, desperately in love with her old sweetheart Charlie Wu but tormented by her ex-husband–a man hell-bent on destroying Astrid’s reputation and relationship. Meanwhile, Kitty Pong, married to China’s second richest man, billionaire Jack Bing, still feels upstaged by her new stepdaughter, famous fashionista Colette Bing.

In this sweeping tale that takes us from the elegantly appointed mansions of Manila to the secluded private islands in the Sulu Sea, Kevin Kwan hilariously reveals the long-buried secrets of Asia’s most privileged families and their rich people problems.

Nothing is perfect–but Rich People Problems definitely comes close to delivering a perfect conclusion to the absorbing narrative that Kevin Kwan began with Crazy Rich Asians. As I read the last pages of the book, I felt two things: satisfaction and sadness.

Sadness because I have to say goodbye to the cuckoo cast of characters I’ve grown to love. Not that I would want another book; I don’t want them to overstay their welcome after all. This was the end that they deserved. And satisfied because Rich People Problems came full circle with the central relationship of the trilogy: that of Nicholas Young, his wife Rachel, and his family.

With all the focus on the opulence and the antics, some readers may forget that the most important thing for all the characters remain the same: family. They always want to put family first. And Crazy Rich Asians placed Nicholas against his family when he chooses to be in a relationship with Rachel, and when he married her in China Rich Girlfriend. Rich People Problems, at first, seems to have thrown that conflict away to serve more of what made the first book a bestseller–the shenanigans of these crazy rich Asians. But upon closer inspection, the book manages a perfect balance of giving readers what we think we want, while still delivering the final act of the story it began: There is less Rachel, yes; but as Nick’s wife, the two of them have actually become a single unit working to resolve all the remaining conflict.

I don’t know if Kwan plotted everything from the get go, or if he had a plan to publish a trilogy, and knew every beat he had to go through. What I do know is that he picked the perfect storyline to deal with all the unconnected story threads that needed tying up. Su Yi’s impending death is the perfect way to show the madness that people want to read about, while also dealing the emotional endings that each character needed to have–for the finale to actually work as a conclusion. And Kwan handles everything with the perfect balance of grace and lunacy.

Rich People Problems is one of the best book I’ve read for 2017. Hands down.

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Book: Crazy Rich Asians

"Crazy Rich Asians"

When American-born Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home and quality time with the man she hopes to marry. But Nick has failed to provide a few key details. One, that his childhood home looks like a palace. Two, that he grew up riding in more private planes that cans. Three, that he just happens to be the country’s most eligible bachelor.

On Nick’s arm, Rachel may as well have a target on her back the second she steps off the plane, and soon, her relaxed vacation turns into an obstacle course of old money, new money, nosy relatives, and scheming social climbers.

Here’s the thing with the Chinese– No matter where you are, if you were not born and raised in Mainland China, you pretty much get the same upbringing as every other Chinese person in the world. At least, that’s how I see it after reading Crazy Rich Asians, which spoke to my Chinese upbringing although I’ve never been to the US, to Europe–and have only seen Singapore through tourists’ eyes. And this idea is further cemented by the fact that Fresh Off The Boat, a new Chinese-centric sitcom in the US, is nailing all these quirks that the Chinese have.

We are stingy and we love a good bargain–even if we can afford to splurge, or to buy something more expensive. We subscribe to the idea of ‘why spend more when you can get the same for less.’ And yet, when we are looked down upon, we relish pulling the carpet from under the ignorant supremacists who would dare belittle us. Figuratively. Literally pulling the carpet from under someone is not very polite and is looked down upon by society. And this weird characteristic of the Chinese is alive and well in Kevin Kwan’s book.

Crazy Rich Asians sounds like a romance novel, and it is that. But more than the relationship of the two lead characters we are given with, the book focuses more on the romance between our main characters’ race and power. And it is the most engaging and most entertaining love story I have ever read. Most of the characters have some grandiose plan of getting what they want, and the whole sordid affair is so self-aware that, if you’re Chinese, you won’t feel offended. Author Kwan doles out the humor in perfect doses that the observations about Chinese eccentricities never feel like an attack on character. It’s as if Kwan wants to say that ‘we are who we are, so why not just laugh about it?’

Now, don’t get me wrong: the book is far from perfect. I have some issues with pacing, with plot points that are abandoned with… well… careless abandon, and with the ensemble cast of characters that come and go. But at the end of the day, the book delivered what it was supposed to deliver: entertainment.

Crazy Rich Asians is a gem. And now I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next in Kwan’s sequel: China Rich Girlfriend.

In the meantime, let’s see what other people have said about this book:
The New York Times
Pop Matters
Books Etc.