Meeting Kevin Kwan made me like Crazy Rich Asians more

My cousin Louis (pictured above with cookie monster hair) has been talking about Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan for a while. It just so happened that I had a copy sitting on my shelf for months and I just hadn’t gotten around to reading it. Around three chapters in, I decided that I didn’t love it.

Half way through the book, my cousin invited to come to an event at Chapters Indigo bookstore for an “In conversation with Kevin Kwan” event where the author would be interviewed about the third book, Rich People Problems, in the Crazy Rich Asian trilogy. It completely changed my perspective of the book and made me like it that much more.

Crazy Rich Asians is about exactly that – Asians who are so rich, they spend money like they’re crazy. Scene one – an Asian family faces discrimination at a fancy hotel in the UK.

Existing Asian-American fiction would turn this experience into a story about the will to overcome racism, to fit in and succeed in a new land through hard work.

But this is Crazy Rich Asians. So the family buys the hotel and checks in for the night.

At the event, Kwan reminded us that this is a new world. One where China turns farmers into billionaires overnight while the Western world slowly recovers from a recession. Crazy Rich Asians confronts the conflicts between old and new money in the East, giving us a glimpse into a world most of us in North America rarely see. It makes us envious and then, it makes us laugh.

At least, it tries to make us laugh. Kwan doesn’t want to pass judgement on these crazy, rich Asians. That’s the reader’s job. But as a reader, I’m left wondering if this is a tell-all or a satire because it doesn’t fully achieve either. Also, there are pages and pages of descriptions into luxury goods. So much that it distracts from the story line.

But what won me over was when Kwan talked about how his character’s “spoke to him” during the writing process. And it shows. You can tell that the characters are all created out of love — from obnoxious Eddie to beguiling Astrid.

When asked how many characters were based on real people, Kwan told the crowd that obnoxious Eddie was in fact based on a real person. In fact, this person had approached Kwan begging to be in his future book, not recognizing that he was already there. If you know Eddie, this will make you laugh.

If you’re looking for a fun summertime read, reach for Crazy Rich Asians. If you love it, complete the trilogy with China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems. By then, the movie for Crazy Rich Asians will probably be out — it promises to be the first movie with an all Asian cast since the Joy Luck Club.

 

 

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Reading the Philippine’s first crime novel

_20170416_111032.JPGIn February, I went to my friend S.J.’s wedding in the Philippine’s. I loved, loved, loved the Philippine’s – the people, the places, the food.

Like most vacations, it was hard coming back. I think it was even harder coming back because we had been surrounded by so much love and happiness from the wedding. I wasn’t looking forward to coming back to a cold, snowy, stark Toronto. In a moment of mourning the end of my vacation, I picked up Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan at the Manila airport.

Smaller and Smaller Circles is often described as the Philippine’s first crime novel. After all, whodunnit detective novels usually hail from cold, rainy Scandinavian countries. But this is actually much more than your classic crime novel. It’s clear that Batacan is using fiction to make a statement about corruption of authorities and how the country’s poor are forgotten.

Batacan’s novel traces the steps two Catholic priest forensic investigators take to find a serial killer is who kills poor slum children and skins off their faces. It’s a bit like the movie Spotlight except both the good guys and the bad guys are priests.

Smaller and Smaller starts off slow but it does eventually hook you. Religion changes the perspective of the investigators and that’s something you won’t find in a Scandinavian detective novel. Batacan also dives deep into the interwoven church and state bureaucracy which is, at times, tedious.

This is a good read and does provide insight into current events in the Philippines such as the rise of Duterte and the conflicted relationship between citizens and a very power church.

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Trevor Noah finds humour in tragedy

trevor-noah-born-a-crimeFor those of you who are fans of The Daily Show, you should get your paws on Trevor Noah’s autobiography, Born a Crime. Better yet, get the audiobook version (read by Noah) like I did after my friend, C., highly recommended it. (Thanks C.!)

Like The Daily Show, Noah tackles tough topics in Born a Crime, like being a mixed-raced child growing up in apartheid South Africa, where mixed-raced relationships were legally prohibited. But Noah finds the humour in his predicament because if you think about the implications, it’s ridiculous.

Noah shifts between tragedy and comedy without skipping a beat, breaking down barriers for the taboo. I remember my high school drama teacher telling us that comedy is just tragedy plus time and Noah illustrates this like a true comedian. Spoiler alert, the last chapter is most devastating but also made me laugh the hardest.

Noah reminds us that people can’t be reduced down to their ethnic, religious and socio-economic groups. History shows that attempts to draw lines where they don’t belong (between people, within a person, between places) results in tragedy.

We’re better off if we can love and laugh together.

Writing less to say more

51lvoalt-2l-_sx323_bo1204203200_A few months ago, I moved into my first home! It’s a 600 square-feet condo, which isn’t considered small for Toronto these days, but certainly, it cannot be called big. So I whittled down my book collection and swore that I’d only buy ebooks going forward.

Those who read Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up will recall that she says you should buy books and read them immediately. She tells her readers to throw out books they never got around to reading because they will likely never read them.

But that has been the case for me. In my cleaning, I found a copy of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. And I thought I’d hang onto it because he’s supposed to be a classic and I so rarely read classics.

But I regret not reading Hemingway sooner because his writing confirmed for me, that the best writing is simple. You don’t have spell things out with big words, fancy jargon and flowery descriptions. And when you’re as good a writer as Hemingway, you don’t need any of those things to convey exactly what you want the reader to feel.

fbf7be6f9c3dabeafe5bd13af1023e70I had always heard that Hemingway had a way of writing simple prose. He’s often said to have written the six-word story: “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.” As I learned from reading The Moveable Feast, six words from Hemingway can hit you like a bag of bricks. And in today’s 140-character world, brevity is important.

But enough crushing and gushing over Hemingway’s word count — The Moveable Feast is just a great read. I don’t love Paris but I love his Paris. Can there be a theme park where you get to play a broke writer who drinks with other tortured writers of the time?

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