An ode to… Kevin Kwan

Well Kevin Kwan is back!

Well, I guess I should say that Kevin Kwan hasn’t gone anywhere, but he’s coming out with a new book which is super exciting for me! Haven’t read his other books? Boy are you missing out.

His first book, Crazy Rich Asians was such a riot! Seriously. I loved it so much (Side note: if you have seen the movie, know that as always, THE. BOOK. IS. ALWAYS. BETTER. and it has some subtle – and not-so-subtle differences. Let me reiterate: READ. THE. BOOK.)

Crazy Rich Asians follows the adventures of Rachel Chu, Chinese-American professor of economics, as she meets her boyfriend, Nicholas Young’s family for the first time. Nick is basically what would amount to royalty in his home country of Singapore and not too many people in his family (or his ex-girlfriends) are happy when he brings Rachel (read: a nobody) home. Craziness ensues. Along side Rachel and Nick, there are many, many side characters worth mentioning. My favorite of which is Astrid, Nick’s glamorous cousin, married to a CEO of the computer company – whose marriage is beginning to crumble. Also, Kitty – a Chinese soap opera (read: porn) star that has latched on to one of Nick’s other fabulously wealthy cousins.

CRA is followed up by two sequels, China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems. The sequels really dive into the stories of many of the side characters, leaving Rachel and Nick mostly out of the picture by the third book.

One of the best parts of the book was the social commentary about the uber-rich. Specifically uber-rich Asians. (I use Asians because it is not only Singapore society that is explored. Rich society in China, the US, and Malaysia are also portrayed) The exploration of the super-rich will turn out to be a major theme throughout Kwan’s works, in which he has some first hand knowledge of having grown up in Singapore society.

Rachel, as an outsider, and Nick, as someone who has left wealth (mostly) behind him, are almost completely astonished by the reception Rachel receives from Nick’s family. Rachel specifically is completely shocked by the trend of these people trying to one-up each other. As a reader who definitely doesn’t fall into the “uber-rich” category, it is crazy to read the lengths that these characters will go to out-do each other (although I really can’t say I’m surprised given materialism in this world). Also, the footnotes are the most hilarious parts and you should definitely read them!

The other thing I loved most about these books was the descriptions of all the places they visit. I had planned to explore CRA as a Book Travel Dreaming blog post. I did start planning my trip to Singapore as soon as I finished the novel, but life just got in the way and I haven’t had a chance to go…. yet. However, the descriptions of Singapore were enough to make me dream about going and the food REALLY clinched the deal for me. Oh, the food! <Sigh> I cannot tell you how much I want to eat what these characters eat. My goodness. Just thinking about it now, my mouth is watering. If you want food to inspire your travel – then these books are definitely for you.

After the CRA series, I hadn’t heard much from Kevin Kwan. Until a few short weeks ago, when I read that he was coming out with a new book. Gah! Titled “Sex and Vanity,” I knew I just had to read it! I immediately went to see if I could snag an eARC.

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this one prior to publication.

I was not disappointed – in fact, I’d say I was elated! While Sex and Vanity doesn’t have the same international angle as CRA, it was just as entertaining. Set on Italy’s island of Capri and good, old New York City, this book just shines with Kevin Kwan flair.

Lucie Churchill, a half-Chinese, half-super WASP, college student travels to Capri to attend the wedding of her good friend Isabel. Since she’s young (and rich, you know), she is accompanied by her much older cousin, Charlotte (this book definitely had an “A Room With A View” vibe). At the wedding she meets and falls for George Zao, who is immediately dismissed as not suitable for her. After a scandalous incident at the wedding, Lucie is whisked away never to see George again. Until…

Flash forward, 5 years later, Lucie becomes engaged to the entirely acceptable Cecil Pike. But who comes sneakily back into her life? George. Hilarity ensues as only Kevin Kwan can write it.

As expected, you are thrust into the sphere of the uber-rich (buying an Aston Martin is compared to buying a bag of Cheetos) which makes for some outrageous situations. The social commentary in this novel pushed the boundaries on racism and identity. Lucie, being half-Chinese and half-White struggles with both sides of herself and it makes for some very interesting storytelling. Listening to the racism she encounters from her own family is just jaw dropping.

The biggest difference from Crazy Rich Asians is that Kwan sticks really close to his main characters. While CRA has a whole incredible cast of characters, S&V sticks close to Lucie for the entire book. Other people float in and around her, but the story is pretty soundly set in her perspective.

All in all, a great read. Actually all of his books are great reads. Now I need to keep planning my Singapore, China, Malaysia, and Italy trips. Gotta jet!

Crazy Rich Asians, published 2013

China Rich Girlfriend, published 2015

Rich People Problems, published 2017

Sex and Vanity, expected release date: June 30, 2020

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