She sat in the airless vehicle, which was getting more stifling by the second. She could feel her heart pounding so quickly. She has just bought a three hundred and fifty thousand dollar diamond ring she didn’t much care for, a twenty-eight thousand dollar bracelet she quite liked, and a seven hundred and eighty-four thousand dollar pair of earrings that made her look like Pocahontas. For the first time in weeks, she felt bloody fantastic.
The quote above was on my mind when I saw these dramatic, near-shoulder-grazing earrings in New York City’s trendy SoHo neighborhood earlier this year. These earrings were obviously impractical, like the ones Astrid Leong of Crazy Rich Asians impulsively bought. Where was I going to wear them? How often will I wear them? I don’t really have the lifestyle for jewelry this dramatic. Most of my time is spent at work or at home or at various coffee shops for reading, writing, and more working.
But it was love at first sight. I stayed away for an hour or two to make sure I really wanted them. I did. Every time I moved away, my insides protested, anxious that someone else would snap them up. I still haven’t worn them outside the house, but whenever I take them out to admire them, I’m still as much in love. Pure joy was probably a good enough reason to purchase them.
Don’t worry, I didn’t spend anywhere near 784,000 dollars on them. And with that heartwarming love story out of the way, let’s get on with my review of Crazy Rich Asians.
In Crazy Rich Asians, two young New York University professors, Rachel Chu and Nick Young, have been in a romantic relationship for a good while. Nick wants to bring Rachel home to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding. Rachel accepts, hoping Nick will soon propose.
What Nick omits, is that he is heir to an illustrious and impossibly wealthy Southeast Asian clan. Upon arrival, poor and oblivious Rachel must deal the culture shock, money shock, Nick’s unreasonable mother, class snobbery, and bloodthirsty single ladies.
So far, so cliché. A plot like this has the potential to be an entertaining, Austen-esque romp. Trouble is, Nick and Rachel are quite tepid and uninteresting. Their story never lifts above a clichéd romcom, even up to the ending.
Kevin Kwan provided several subplots, mostly a collection of rich people and their silly antics. Some of the dialogue is truly hilarious (and deliciously ditzy!). Overall, though, many of the characters felt like nothing more than caricatures.
(Don’t take only my word for characterization though. A friend whose diplomat family worked in Southeast Asia and a Singaporean Instagram pal said that the characters are pretty true to life.)
A notable exception is Astrid Leong’s subplot. Astrid is Nick’s glamorous and elegant socialite cousin. Her story succeeded in conveying genuine depth and feeling. Not necessarily a rebel, she does break away from certain conventions of her exclusive milieu. She married a middle-class man forging his own career instead of old money/a high-profile politician/a royal offspring/an emerging billionaire.
But if there’s anything money can’t buy, it’s a happy marriage. Astrid’s plot feels sincere because its conflict is believable. I actually wished for Crazy Rich Asians to center its story on Astrid. Plus, she is written as a chic lady with impeccable taste and a discerning eye for style, rather than throwing money at designer labels. Come on, you have to admit she sounds a lot more fun than an everycouple.
I was skeptical of the Crazy Rich Asians series (it’s a trilogy) when it started getting hype. The plot sounded like a typical romcom and it probably gained traction because the novel detailed a socioeconomic milieu Western readers didn’t know about. Still, I’m not immune to hype. And wasn’t it my duty as a Southeast Asian to read a novel about Southeast Asians that convinced Hollywood to feature a majority Asian cast for a film in twenty-five years?
While I didn’t find it particularly interesting, I don’t discourage anyone from reading Crazy Rich Asians. It’s fun and glossy. It may not offer anything new or particularly thoughtful, but every bibliophile needs a glossy read once in a while. It would be a good book to jumpstart your reading if you’ve been in a slump. It would be great for vacation too.
When all is said and done, however, my primary purpose in writing this review is to show off those gorgeous earrings and talk about them.
Have any of you read Crazy Rich Asians? What do you think?