You might like this book if you…
- like characters that annoy you so much that you want to throw the book
- want to know the fashion labels that define a “crazy rich Asian”
- are looking for a romance story that isn’t really a romance, but rather a lot of people outside of the romance complaining about said couple
Rachel Chu and Nick Young fell in love as academics in New York. After keeping his family and background a secret from Rachel, Nick is finally ready to show her his home. He invites her to spend the summer with him in Singapore when he goes back to be at his best friend’s wedding. He just forgets to mention that he’s rich–crazy rich. Rachel discovers a whole new side of her boyfriend as she maneuvers through the social dynamics of the Singaporean super-rich–often on her own, as Nick goes to attend his duties as best man.
I tried really hard to like this book. In fact, I loved the opening, with a story that had a Pretty-Woman-esque twist, and a description of the Chinese gossip train that was pretty close to the Indian Auntie Network. It had such a promising start… and then it quickly became an audiobook that I sped up to just get to the end already.
Maybe it’s because I went into it with such high expectations. Everyone I knew who watched the movie loved it. My students loved it. One of my Chinese American students said she cried when she watched it.
And you know what? The movie is good. It corrected the many faults of the book, namely, that it focuses way too much on the titular Crazy Rich Asians, and not nearly enough on the young lovebirds whose story I was hoping to read. I thought I was going to read about how Rachel Chu got swept up into her Nick’s family’s lavish lifestyle. I thought I would see the couple’s relationship transforming, and see Nick maturing as a young man because he would be forced to face what he actually wanted in life. And I did, a bit. But it was buried in nonsense.
In conveying the decadent lives of Nick Young’s friends and family, Kevin Kwan goes overboard with his annoying characters. Every character is obsessed with the superficial. Don’t get me wrong–I recognize that’s the point of a book titled “Crazy Rich Asians.” But I don’t need pages of the superficial in order to get that it’s superficial and stupid. I read this as an audiobook, and oftentimes, my entire twenty-minute morning commute consisted of one character after another gossiping about someone else’s financial prospects or speculating about the real estate in Singapore. I rolled my eyes and muttered, “I don’t give a shit” and sped up the book or zoned out until one of the few likeable characters returned to the story.
I can best explain Crazy Rich Asians‘s faults through a book that addresses similar themes and situations better: Pride and Prejudice. In Austen’s work, you get attached to one relatable character, Elizabeth Bennett. You see the world through Lizzy’s eyes, and she shows you how ridiculous and deceptive it is. Austen mocks the snobby ultra-rich, the mindless daughters, and the status-obsessed mothers–all while focusing on Lizzy, a down-to-earth character that serves as the reader’s window into English society.
Kwan needed to do the same with Rachel Chu. In fact, this is how the movie fixes his awful storytelling. It establishes Rachel and Nick as the center of the story, fleshes out unlikeable characters so that they are more realistic, and eliminates endless banal conversations among the rich. In stories like this, we as readers need characters like Rachel Chu and Elizabeth Bennett to serve as home base, as our way of interpreting this world and knowing that they (in this case, the Crazy Rich) are the crazy ones, not us.
I don’t often say this for books. But the movie was better. I’m not interested in reading the next two, but let me know if more movies come out. I want to know what happens to Rachel and Nick, but not at the expense of another 13 hours and 53 minutes* of my life.
*Actual length of audiobook
Did you read Crazy Rich Asians? What did you think? Leave a comment with your thoughts!