A Book Review by Sean Cua (Class 2021)
Several months ago, I was walking along UP Town Center with my mom, the two of us leisurely passing the time until my dad would finally finish his shopping, when we chanced upon National Bookstore. As the store usually featured its most popular and trendy stories and non-fiction self-help books, our eyes fell upon a peculiar red-orange book with a woman who wore sunglasses, fancy expensive-looking earrings, and a necklace adorned with pearls, titled, Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. My mom leapt up and down, ecstatic as the book had been something she had heard of through her usual nighttime gossip news, and the novel had been touted as “a super funny and amazing rollercoaster of an adventure” (non-verbatim BUT I’m pretty sure she said something like this).
Unfortunately, my mother and I weren’t able to buy the book and in time, we forgot all about it. We would hear the movie adaptation circulate through the news, but then again lose the intent of buying it as soon as other worries would enter our lives. It wouldn’t be until last Thursday, August 2, when I would finally borrow a copy of China Rich Girlfriends from a friend of mine who also enjoyed reading the book, and man, was I excited to finally read the book, which I thought was the first book of the series—
—Only to foolishly realize that China Rich Girlfriends was already the second book and that Crazy Rich Asians was indeed the first. Ha-ha, silly me, why would they adapt the second book into a movie before the first book?
Regardless of that fact, I somehow felt the urge to still read the story, even without the background of book one, and given that there wasn’t any homework or advance studying (heh) to be done for the next day, I opened the first page and began reading. And reading. And reading. And before I knew it, it was already 3 AM and we had a group meeting scheduled at 10 that I was definitely going to be late to (spoiler, I wasn’t).
What I never expected was how much the book would grip me and how much its characters would consume my thoughts even when the plot wasn’t something intricately complex or compelling, to say the least. The story revolved around several Chinese families, all of them rich in their own right, dealing with their perceived problems with each other (even when the other party never saw any problem in their relationship). The ending was to be expected and is really just “okay” in the grand scheme of things. In spite of all of these, the characters and the writing carried the novel on their backs, with every single one of the named characters having an impact on the other characters as well as the readers. From the whimsical natures of Carlton and Colette, to the cool and grounded duo of Rachel and Nico, to the heartwarming Astrid, to the traditional “money-is-everything” Corinne and Eleanor (and friends), and much, much more; every character and family felt like real people who I could relate to and sympathize with–not just because I’m Chinese but because Kwan fleshed them out with personalities, motivations, flaws, and ambitions that refused any shortcuts. Kwan described and explained in detail how every part of the character: their mannerisms, their manner of talking, their inner thoughts and monologues, and most importantly how they dress (I know my vocabulary of wardrobe is bad and I have Kevin Kwan to thank for introducing me to more words for clothing like pantsuit and brooches–which I’ve seen before but never bothered to learn about until this novel) and the way he poured his love for every character through his details contributed in how I, the reader, would follow the same thought process of these characters, even if their world varies greatly from what we see around us.
Kevin Kwan, through his careful and purposeful prose, grants his readers the gift of sight and the curse of caring for fictional characters. With the silly, over-the-top interactions of these characters and how they seem to just carelessly throw away money paired with the deep pangs of pain, insecurity, loss, and betrayal, this book was a welcome rollercoaster to ride into this new school year. After putting the book down, I could definitely see myself jumping up and down like my mother in anticipation for the movie, and as well as the first book and third book of the trilogy, which I will be getting to next week (hopefully). In short, if you feel like spending a few hours standing in the shoes of the rich Chinese people who could probably buy the whole Philippines if they wanted to, and yet learn that there is definitely way more to them than just being China Rich Girlfriends, then I wholeheartedly recommend this book for you. Watch how Kevin Kwan’s masterful writing brings to life the interplay between the matters of money and the matters of the heart.
Special thanks to Stacey Caryl Go for lending me the book and for Christine Dator for lending me the other two books.