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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Judy Blume returns for adults

23899174It’s been a hard week watching the U.S. elections. As a Canadian, I wish our neighbours to the south best of luck and suggest that they hide themselves in a good book until they have a better idea of what Trump stands for — and proceed to fight for their rights.

I recently finished Judy Blume’s In the Unlikely Event and thought it was, meh. My mistake is in thinking it’d be anything close to Summer Sisters, Judy Blume’s epic first adult book.

The story centres on a teenage girl named Miri Ammerman growing up with a single mom in Elizabeth, New Jersey in the early 1950’s. In the span of two years, three airplanes out of Newark Airport crash in Elizabeth earning it the nickname, Plane Crash City.

In the Unlikely Event is still full of believable and relatable, adolescent characters who are traversing the trials of growing up. This, Judy Blume will always excel at. But I just didn’t feel enough for the characters and I really didn’t like the ending. The story came up short for me. I’ll just stick to Summer Sisters, thank you.

It probably didn’t help that I took a two week break from reading In the Unlikely Event. I had planned to take it as plane reading materials for a trip to Asia but then decided against it. Who wants to read about plane crashes on a plane?

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The two per cent

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I took a hiatus from reading for fun. It didn’t feel right so I’m glad that’s over. I was studying for this finance test and just couldn’t commit what little free time I had to finishing a novel. I’d look at all the amazing books I had on my shelf and feel a little guilty for neglecting them. And they’d stare back and tempt me. Little bastards.

The first one I picked up again was Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers. I’ve seen this book before but never picked it up because the cover looked boring. Yep, I judged a book by its’ cover. But now that it’s an HBO show, it has newer, dark cover art and I wanted to check it out:

Old cover:
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New cover (it’s 27% off at Indigo right now):

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I’m really glad I did because The Leftovers is an amazing read. In the not so distant future, a whopping two per cent of the world’s population disappears. One minute they’re sitting there and the next, POOF, they’re gone. The rest of the world goes into a mourning and most people think it’s something like The Rapture. But there doesn’t seem to be anything special about the people who are “chosen”. Some of them seemed like a**holes. But then what does that mean for those of us left behind?

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People try to find meaning in non-conventional ways. They’re joining weird cults, leaving their families and painfully trying to let go of the people who have disappeared. They stop buying all sorts of garbage and going to yoga (Perrotta hates yoga).

Perrotta’s characters are believable, relateable and so very broken. I couldn’t put this one down. The ending won’t satisfy most readers but only adds to the uneasiness of the story.