Friday, 19 May 2017

Crazy Rich Asians #3: Rich People Problem by Kevin Kwan

Goodreads Summary: Kevin Kwan, bestselling author of Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend, is back with an uproarious new novel of a family riven by fortune, an ex-wife driven psychotic with jealousy, a battle royal fought through couture gown sabotage, and the heir to one of Asia's greatest fortunes locked out of his inheritance. 

When Nicholas Young hears that his grandmother, Su Yi, is on her deathbed, he rushes to be by her bedside--but he's not alone. It seems the entire Shang-Young clan has convened from all corners of the globe, ostensibly to care for their matriarch but truly to stake claim on the massive fortune that Su Yi controls. With each family member secretly fantasizing about getting the keys to Tyersall Park--a trophy estate on 64 prime acres in the heart of Singapore--the place becomes a hotbed of intrigue and Nicholas finds himself blocked from entering the premises. As relatives claw over heirlooms, Astrid Leong is at the center of her own storm, desperately in love with her old sweetheart Charlie Wu, but tormented by his ex-wife--a woman hell bent on destroying Astrid's reputation and relationship. Meanwhile Kitty Pong, married to billionaire Jack Bing, finds a formidable opponent in his fashionista daughter, Colette. A sweeping novel that takes us from the elegantly appointed mansions of Manila to the secluded private islands in the Sulu Sea, from a schoolyard kidnapping to a gold-leaf dancefloor spattered with blood, Kevin Kwan's gloriously wicked new novel reveals the long-buried secrets and rich people problems of Asia's most privileged families.
Published: May 23rd by Doubleday
Genre: Contemporary



Now that I think about it, I realize that it's a bit weird that I've never talked about one of my favourite series. Written by Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians depicts the crazy adventures of the extravagant Chinese elite. Admittedly, the set of three books is not for everybody. Think of it as a mashup between Gossip Girl and 90210 where the cast is in their early 30s and instead of hanging out in Barney's or Nordstrom, do their shopping between China's fanciest shops and every major fashion city. 

In the first book, Nick brought along his girlfriend Rachel to his best friend's wedding in Singapore, exposing her to his world made up of ridiculously wealthy relatives, friends and acquaintances without any preparation. In fact, prior to the trip Rachel knew little about her boyfriend's family and assumed that his silence on his background hinted at a poverty-ridden home that he wanted to hide. 

In this last opus, Nick's iron fisted grandmother is dying. The entire family and their bunch of extended relative gather at her deathbed to gain a share of her massive fortune. Once, Su Yi's favoured grandchild, the two had been on the out lately due to his relation and subsequent marriage to Rachel, an American born Chinese from a middle-class family. However, feeling that this might be his last opportunity to speak with his grandmother, Nick decides to book a trip to his homeland. 

Rich People Problem is as crisp and entertaining as his predecessors. Everybody's back in this latest instalment. However, as Su Yi's life is coming to an end the author offers glimpse of her backstory through flashbacks. Amidst the ridiculous antics of his cast, what shone the most is the author's love and pride for his country. It's the in the way he weaves history into his plot, in the way he writes about places and the food, and how his characters speak. The characters are fictional, and represent an extremely tiny portion of China's population. Despite this, I felt like I discovered China and its people a little bit through this book. 

A critique that has often been levelled at this series is its lack of introspection, its seeming acceptance of the gilded lives of an entitled elite. I think the author deserve a bit more credit than that. His real critique of the Chinese billionaires and millionaires is in his candid depiction of who and what they are. His characters are likeable and endearing, yet the reader is never led to believe that they are anything but ridiculously spoiled individuals living in their own little bubble. From Nick being pissed off by an offer of billions of dollars to buy his grandmother’s mansion, to Astrid tumultuous and public relationship with a former flame, though we can empathise with the characters’ problems, we are always reminded that these are empty rich people problems that would not have any significance or importance outside their gilded world. As you can see, naming this third book Rich People Problem was clever indeed.

Perhaps, more could have been done to induce some much needed character growth, especially for Nick. Nick's brand of entitlement lies in a disconcerting naivety about issues of wealth and poverty. There’s a quote from book 2 from Jacqueline, a family friend of the Young, that stuck with me. She was trying to advise Nick against marrying Rachel because by following through with his plan, Nick would have probably been disinherited and would have had to face the consequence of his choice. 

"You can act all self-righteous in front of me right now, but believe me, when it is all taken away, you won’t know what hit you. Doors that have been open to you all your life will suddenly be closed, because in everyone’s eye you are nothing without Tyersall Park." 

Obviously, Nick utterly missed her point. I kind of wish the author would have explored this topic a little bit more. If this was another story, Nick would have finally realized to what extent his family name influenced the way people interacted with him and his life. He would have at long last acknowledged how lucky and privileged he had been his entire life. But Rich People Problem is not that kind of book which is fine since Crazy Rich Asians never pretended to be a study of power and privilege. 

I highly recommend this book and the entire series to anyone who want to have a good laugh while discovering a little bit of China!

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