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.



The Fat Years ridicules until it gets ridiculously boring

Sorry Penguins, I meant to blog more this week but it’s been a busy week! But that’s not my real excuse. No, my real excuse is that I’ve been buried in The Fat Years by Hong Kong media veteran Chan Koonchung.

I picked up The Fat Years because it was banned in China. And while not all books banned by China are good – this one was probably one of my favourites. Based in the near future, The Fat Years features a Taiwanese journalist named Lao Chen living in China.

Lao Chen is beyond happy, he’s elated and he’s not the only one. And he’s not entire sure why – except that the economy has fallen in the West and China has become the greatest superpower. Lao Chen begins to doubt his own happiness when he runs into an old friend who tells him that the whole country has forgotten about a whole month. A month that was filled with turmoil.

Dystopia fans take note – this is a fantastically, puzzling dystopia. Except in the preface you learn that this isn’t a dystopia, this is simply Maoist China. Which explains why Chan Koonchung was able to write such a detailed dystopia. I actually really enjoyed the book with its rich use of facts from Chinese history and translated proverbs.

The Gao Brothers

But the story takes a dive when the characters kidnap a government official and interrogate him. The official gives a very, very long speech which resembles something out of my university political science textbooks. Only duller. Mind you, I think this was a satire of all the rhetoric The Communist Party likes to feed its citizens but it was a very long satire.   I couldn’t read all of it because it was so long and tedious.

I mean, even the characters in the book fall asleep during the monologue. And I fell asleep several times reading it.

The Execution of Christ by The Gao Brothers

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March of the Penguins

I’m really excited for three books released this month:

If Walls Could Talk by Lucy Worsely (February 28, 2012)
The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood (March 20, 2012)
The Gilly Salt Sisters by Tiffany Baker (March 14, 2012) – Read review from BroadArtVibe

If Walls Could Talk tracks the history of the home in England from what people did in bed to when flushing toilets were all the rage. The Bellwether Revivals is a romance and murder mystery at Cambridge compared to Brideshead Revisted. Two sisters spend a lifetime quarrelling over one man in The Gilly Salt Sisters.

I’m also looking to catch-up on my ever-growing to-read list – because the first rule of book blogging is to have way too many books to read:

The Darlings by Christina Alger (February 16, 2012) – Featured in February Reads

The Fat Years by Chan Koonchung (January 10, 2012)

All of China catches amnesia and forgets about a whole month in The Fat Years.

Happy March!

Photo taken by Alan Chai

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