Mistake! Huge mistake! Don’t make the same one!
I’ll admit that when I opened the book and there was a family tree staring at me, with footnotes, I was like, what is this I can’t even. I scanned over the tree and didn’t understand a bit of it and never went back. I have a decent head for family relations, so I never needed it to figure out who was who or anything like that, but I kind of wish I had gone back to see what those footnotes were all about.
The book itself starts out in the past, with a brief story wherein several of the family tree people attempt to check into a hotel in London. They are disheveled from walking rather than taking a taxi, so the manager is like, sopping wet Chinese people? Yeah, I don’t see a reservation here, sorry. Unfortunately for him, a quick phone call secures the sale of the hotel to one of those family members, and he is promptly fired. Oops.
In the present, this giant extended family is still “richer than God” and living all over the world, but everyone’s coming back to the family manse in Singapore for a family friend’s 888-guest wedding. One of everyone is a fellow called Nick Young, who has been living in New York City and working as an academic, having lots of money but spending it quite wisely. He’s got a nice ABC girlfriend called Rachel, also an academic, and he convinces her to take her summer off and travel around Asia with him, you know, meet the family and stuff. It’s that latter part that causes all the problems.
Nick and Rachel are the main story, but the narrative trades off between them and several other family members, showing how each of them has chosen to use their wealth and family prestige. There’s Astrid, who buys million-dollar dresses and tells her frugal husband that she’s splurged and spent thousands on them, and who soon finds out that said husband is maybe not as committed to their relationship as she is. There’s Eddie, who dresses his tiny children in bespoke suits and rues the fact that his friend has a 2000-square-foot closet (that’s three times the size of my apartment!) and he doesn’t. But most importantly, there’s Eleanor Young, Nick’s mother, who understands the significance of bringing a girl home to meet your family better than Nick does and who has hired a private investigator to find out just what secrets Rachel is hiding that will keep Nick from wanting to marry her.
It’s all absolutely fascinating. Kwan does a great job of making all of his crazy rich Asians at least subtly different, with some of them conspicuously consuming everything and some of them spending no more than they absolutely have to and some right in between, and all of them have opinions about how everyone else is spending their money and really, the money part of the story could take place with middle-class Americans arguing about buying hundred-dollar dresses or whatever but it’s way more awesome to be arguing about private jets and molecular gastronomy. Right? And it’s also fascinating to look at the “Asians” part of the title and see how much difference there is between being Mainland Chinese and Singaporean and Taiwanese and Hong Kongese, at least in the eyes of fabulously wealthy old-money Singaporeans.
Most of the book is wonderfully ridiculous, with metaphorical catfights and literal dogfights and crazy rich Asians doing crazy rich Asian things with great gusto, but it kind of jumps the tracks at the end with the reveal of Rachel’s secrets and the sudden seriousness with which the book starts taking itself. But once you get past all that weird stuff, the ending is actually pretty well done and mostly unexpected by me, so we’ll just ignore that whole storyline and call it a win. Yay wins!
Recommendation: For fans of over-the-top wealthy people and their foibles.