When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home, long drives to explore the island, and quality time with the man she might one day marry. What she doesn’t know is that Nick’s family home happens to look like a palace, that she’ll ride in more private planes than cars, and that with one of Asia’s most eligible bachelors on her arm,
Rachel might as well have a target on her back. Initiated into a world of dynastic splendor beyond imagination, Rachel meets Astrid, the It Girl of Singapore society; Eddie, whose family practically lives in the pages of the Hong Kong socialite magazines; and Eleanor, Nick’s formidable mother, a woman who has very strong feelings about who her son should–and should not–marry.
What is Crazy Rich Asians about?
Crazy Rich Asians is about the insular community of reclusive and wealthy families that dominate Singapore as they gather for a wedding that’s touted to be the biggest in Southeast Asia. While tensions are high, Nicholas Young–rumored to be the favorite of Shang Su Yi and thus inheritor to one of the biggest fortunes in Singapore–brings home an American girl named Rachel Chu. Family and friends alike are shocked by Nick’s choice in girlfriend, and his mother rallies the troops to break the two up, seeing Rachel as a threat to Nick’s inheritance. Meanwhile, Nick is trying to keep his best friend Colin Khoo together in the face of his wedding, and Nick’s cousin Astrid struggles with her marriage.
Genre: Contemporary and sorta Romance?
While the movie that brought this book series into the mainstream is primarily focused on the romance between Nick and Rachel, the book does give a bit more time to other characters and plotlines. So while there is a serious romance beat, with the buildup of Rachel and Nick’s relationship, there’s a lot more going on on the sidelines.
Tropes: Family Duties, Money Money Money
Most characters in the series are concerned with two things: maintaining their familial status and maintaining their monetary worth. Some families have growing fortunes, businesses to think about and status to maintain, while others are comfortable in their discreet and ridiculous wealth and enjoy the comforts of their fortunes with little fanfare.
Plot: Warn your partner about your family, please
The big hook of the plot is that Rachel Chu has no idea what she’s getting herself into. Living in New York City with Nick, she knows he has slightly better clothes and coffee than the average history professor, but attributes this to his frugal spending and smart money saving. Despite warnings from friends and family to prepare Rachel for the Youngs, Nick does nothing and is genuinely surprised when the family and money dynamics put a strain on his and Rachel’s romance.
I love how much time is spent on all the characters, you really do get to know their motivations well. The footnotes are helpful, informative, and hilarious all at once and I thoroughly enjoyed that decision from Kwan. The two most important things described throughout the book are incredibly fancy displays of wealth and food, and the descriptions are fabulous or it. I also enjoy the darker moments in the story, such as addressing the Japanese occupation of Singapore, the ignorance towards mental health, and the manipulative tactics some of the families used to keep their heirs in line.
While many of the characters are judgmental by nature, I found that occasionally the narrative was built around hasty judgement and the author promoted those judgements in his footnotes. There seemed to be a current of “this is just the way it is” that wasn’t just a held opinion by the rich and elite. I’m not sure if that was intentional or just really good character writing…
I can’t say I enjoyed the weird flipflop between romantic moments and cynicism towards romance. While there are some incredibly flawed relationships in the story, there was also an undercurrent of denying romance. Nick and Rachel and Astrid and Michael especially have relationships that are meant to be built on real love, trust, and respect, but even those can fall apart at the slightest touch. It was never quite clear if the story was in favor of loving relationships, or thought they were a waste of time.
This book is witty, thoughtful, and hilarious. The descriptions are rich and amazing, the characters thought out and well written, and the story more complex and detailed than I expected. There’s a lot of nuance to the storytelling here, and a lot of context is given to the non-Southeast Asian audience to help with everything going on. Even characters that appear to be the butt of a joke are given time to grow, explanations to their behaviors, and real emotions to feed the narrative. A great set up to the rest of the series, this novel also serves as an absorbing and well rounded read of its own.
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