I didn’t finish reading this so I’ve been umm-ing and ahh-ing over critiquing it. Overall, I appreciate that it’s Chinese-centric without it going on and on about the suffering immigrants and culture clashes in a Western New World but it isn’t my type of novel.
It’s the standard fish-out-of-water scenario. Rachel Chu, a working-class and highly educated American is taken to her uber-rich and highly educated boyfriend’s family home in Singapore. It’s also standard chick-lit. Several hijinks occur that lead to romantic misunderstanding but all is well in the end. I read about a third in and then skipped to the end but I still got the general gist of it: Scandals, crazy spending, lover’s spat, backstabbing, attempted boyfriend stealing, gossiping, more scandals. For all the drama, I lost interest pretty quickly.
Nevertheless, it’s been described as an outrageous satire and shot to prominence so quickly that a sequel has already been pumped out and there are talks of a producing a movie because nothing says success in Hollywood like a movie adaptation. But the one criticism that this book can’t seem to shake off and it’s Nicholas Young continually underestimating his family wealth. I know some people don’t like the fact that Nicholas never tells Rachel about how crazy rich his family is, but if we all start bitching and moaning about this plot hole, it defeats the whole purpose of the novel.
And there was only one purpose to this novel: To show off just how rich the Chinese can be in the most ostentatious, conspicuous, and self-centred manner possible and the character Rachel is a merely a tool used to show this off, and if Kevin Kwan states otherwise, he is a fucking liar.
The prose is so heavy with long, detailed descriptions of all the expensive, luxuriant things that the blue-blooded Chinese families buy. Kwan can’t go for two paragraphs without some sort of description or action designed to highlight, in a satirical manner, how insanely wealthy, and out of touch everyone is. At first it was amusing, the opening scene ends with a woman buying out a hotel because the concierge was condescending to her but it became overwhelming because it was just too much and too ridiculous.
The other defining aspect of this novel is that it is really, really Chinese but like the spending habits of the Young family, Kwan overdid the portrayals though I appreciate what he was trying to do. This was written by someone who lives and breathes being Chinese and all the little intricacies and social rules that come with being Chinese, whether they’re Mainland Chinese, Hong Kong Chinese, or even an ABC. There are also helpful footnotes clarifying Chinese phrases and customs. But like the Young family’s spending habits, it’s too much, I felt like I was trying to navigate a family gathering.
Times have changed and the Chinese are now a wealthy and educated group of people, no matter where you go so it’s nice to see a different piece of work come out that isn’t in the style of ‘The Joy Luck Club’ or ‘Mao’s Last Dancer’. I’m so tired of reading about how sad and suffering immigrants are because we’re in the 21st century. But it’s a pity that I could only take the writing in small doses. Reading this book is like eating a decadent cake, it’s rich and creamy but a few bites in was enough to make me sick.