Book Review: Crazy Rich Asians

A book review of Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. The book follows Rachel Chu discovering the vastly different life of her exceedingly rich boyfriend and trying to fit into the world he grew up in.
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan came on my radar when the trailer for the movie dropped. The movie garnered a lot of attention because it features an all Asian cast and its not a martial arts movie, something Hollywood has been reluctant to do. As a fellow minority, I was really excited to see a minority group get their due screen time. When I first saw the trailer, I had no idea it was based on a book, but even when I discovered that, I wasn't really interested in reading the book. The book follows Rachel Chu discovering the vastly different life of her exceedingly rich boyfriend and trying to fit into the world he grew up in. I'm definitely more of a Sci-Fi/Fantasy or Historical Fiction type of girl, so rom-com in book form didn't really sound like a fun read. Still, when I saw the book on the shelf the last time I went to the bookstore, I had to buy it. This marks only the second time in my life that I've watched the movie before reading the book (Lord of the Rings being the other occasion).

What I Loved

What I love about the book is that the author isn't afraid to insert colloquial phrases and sayings into the dialogue. Sure, majority of the readers probably had to read the footnotes like I did to understand these phrases, but I feel like it's the only thing that made me feel immersed in the culture. The Historical Fiction lover in me found the additional information provided by the footnotes to be particularly interesting.

What I Didn't Love

I usually don't mind reading young adult lit, in fact I often enjoy it. However, this felt teenager-y: the pettiness, the gossipy-ness, the predictability of the plot... It just didn't engross me the way I would hope. Also, as someone who isn't in to fashion or designers, much of the materialism was lost on me. It didn't create a sense of fantasy or intrigue, because I just didn't care about this designer or that designer and it didn't make me feel their wealth, if that makes any sense.

Getting Deep

However, Crazy Rich Asians is actually satire (I think). As I read it, it seemed like shallow drama, but as I reflected on it, I kept wondering why these Chinese women in Singapore were so obsessed with Western culture. They didn't want an American-born Chinese girl for their daughter-in-law, but they kept with Western traditions. References to "accent-less" English, and the notion that their children had to be educated in European schools and be Christian. The main character even takes note of it when having tea, the British way, at the home of the family matriarch.

When I looked at the possible social commentary on creating/maintaining your own culture while simultaneously assimilating to the majority (or dominate) culture to "get ahead," I felt a real kinship with the book. This has been the fate of so many groups of people, particular in lands that were colonized. It's like a strange sort of Stockholm syndrome, where the British have successfully convinced the people that their own culture is unacceptable, but the British culture is "the right culture." I'm not sure if this was the author's intent, however, because I couldn't really sort out the final statement.

Differences From the Movie (Spoilers!)

During the movie, I couldn't figure out how Peik Lin and Rachel were good friends but Peik Lin had no idea that Rachel's boyfriend of two years was Nick Young. This means there was no obsessing over him before they were official, she didn't ask what he looked like or look him up at the university, there were no pictures on social media... Even someone like me, who just joined Instagram at the beginning of the year, thinks this is a bit far-fetched. Especially since Nick is from the same place as Peik Lin, who seems to know everyone. Why wouldn't she ask what his last name is?

In the book, Peik Lin knows all of this information, she just doesn't know who the Youngs are. Their family, and thus their family's wealth, is shrouded in mystery. Of course that opens another plot hole: if a well connected and informed local doesn't know who the Youngs are or how rich they are, why is the family convinced Rachel does and is out for his money? Why doesn't it ever occur to them that she had no idea what she was walking into?

Another difference is the number of characters. In the movie, some characters are dropped or blended together, which I think worked well. It was a bit much to keep up with so many different people in the book.

Spoiler alert #1. In the book, the plot twist is that Michael didn't actually cheat on Astrid. The whole plot twist kind of sucked, in my opinion. In the movie, I felt a tinge of sympathy for Michael because it was obvious that he felt insecure. It almost seemed like he just had the affair to get some attention. In the book however, he just wants out of the marriage. The undertones of him being insecure are there, but really it sounds like from the get-go he just married her for the sex. Book Michael is way more cowardly that movie Michael.

Spoiler alert #2. Rachel's dad isn't just alive and not with the family, he's actually in prison. The story of her mother's abuse and escape is much more intense, including a threat to Rachel herself. Also, Nick's mom learns this information before she ever meets Rachel and holds it as an ace-in-the-hole. I kind of liked this version better because it makes more sense that they would be averse to a girl who's mother kidnapped her and who's father is in prison.

Spoiler alert #3. Nick is much more of a playboy. In the movie, we know he had a thing with Amanda Ling, but how intense/serious this thing was is unknown. Given the overall atmosphere, you could easily believe she was more into him than he was into her. However in the book, Nick not only has a relationship with Amanda, but admits to a threesome with another girl. So, definitely not the most wholesome, Christian man (despite the constant references to Christianity in the book).

Spoiler alert #4. Nick's Mom doesn't consent to the marriage in this book (it's a series so presumably, that comes later). Rachel also never actually agrees to marry him in this book. It simply ends with them reconciled.

Would I Recommend?

I don't know if I would recommend the book or not. I guess it really depends on the person. The book had great potential, but I feel like it would have benefited from a stronger plot and/or less pages. There really isn't enough happening to fill 500+ pages, in my opinion. Overall, I liked the book enough to finish it. It took me about 4 days to read it, which is way longer than a book this length would normally take me. However I'm more likely to rewatch the movie than I am to re-read the book.

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