‘Crazy Rich Asians’: a beach book with a difference

crazy3I had such a good time reading Kevin Kwan’s “Crazy Rich Asians” (Doubleday) last weekend that an Amtrak trip to and from Philadelphia seemed to go by in a flash.

The novel follows a smart and grounded Asian-American woman in New York City who gets the shock of her life when her boyfriend of two years asks her if she would like to go with him to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding.

Rachel Chu has a good job in Manhattan and things could not be going much better with her boyfriend Nick Young. They live in the West Village and have enough money for a fun, comfortable life.

What Rachel doesn’t know when she leaves for Singapore is that Nick comes from a super-wealthy set where almost everyone is a billionaire and the lifestyle is so plush that it makes the doings of rich and famous Americans look austere by comparison.

Rachel gets a hint of what is ahead for her when she enters the first class cabin on a Singapore Airlines two-story Airbus A380 (Nick fibs that he is using up a lot of his frequent flier points):

“Rachel felt as if she was enterting the screening room of a luxurious TriBeCa loft. The cabin consisted of two of the widest armchairs she had ever seen — upholstered in a buttery hand-stitched Poltrona Frau leather — two huge flat-screen televisions placed side by side, and a full-length wardrobe ingeniously hidden behind a sliding burled-walnut panel. A Givenchy cashmere throw was artfully draped over the seats, beckoning them to snuggle up and get cozy.”

When she arrives in Singapore, Rachel quickly sees that the flight was an appropriate introduction to Nick’s life back home. Kwan keeps the reader in a state of shock and awe much like Rachel’s as she attends pre-wedding parties and a bachelorette getaway to a private island crazy2(where the jealous rich girls plot to send Rachel packing before she can get her hooks deeper into Nick and his family fortune).

“Crazy Rich Asians” is part satire, part romantic comedy, written by an insider with a real gift for popular storytelling (it’s no wonder there’s an endorsement from Jackie Collins on the dustjacket).

“Asia right now is going through its new gilded age,” Kwan told Vanity Fair blogger Lauren Christensen last week.

“The wealth creation that’s happening there is unprecedented in the history of the world. I don’t even think China had a single billionaire 10 years ago. A decade later, there are 122 billionaires on the Forbes list who are from China.”

The way that Singapore and China are soaring above America on the global financial scene is illustrated in one delicious throwaway moment Rachel witnesses: “Neena looked over and scolded, ‘Aiyoooooh, finish everything on your plate, girls! Don’t you know there are children starving in America?’”

Joe Meyers