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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Losing your language, learning another

newnamesThere were so many great quotes I wanted to pull from NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names.

Darling is a little girl growing up in Zimbabwe. She steals guavas with her friends. They play games like “Find bin Laden” and speak like unconventional poets. In one conversation, they contemplate looking for Jesus instead of bin Laden because it seems like a bigger prize.

But Darling has an aunt in America whom she hopes to join. This aunt lives in what she refers to as “Destroyedmichygen.” There are so many small moments of genius in this novel, it was hard to pick the ones I wanted to share. I would probably end up publishing the whole book on this blog.

time_magDarling makes her way to America eventually and what she finds there isn’t the paradise she expects. There’s so much food but she’s hungry to go home. We Need New Names attempts to answer that age-old question for immigrant communities — where exactly is home? Bulawayo reminds us that it’s not so easy when home doesn’t exist as you remember it.

“We ate like pigs, like wolves, like dignitaries; we ate like vultures, like stray dogs, like monsters; we ate like kings. We ate for all our past hunger, for our parents and brothers and sisters and relatives and friends who were still back there. We uttered their names between mouthfuls, conjured up their hungry faces, chapped lips — eating for those who could not be with us to eat for themselves. And when we were full we carried our dense bodies with the dignity of elephants — if only our country could see us in America, see us eat like kings in a land that was not ours.”

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Images: ideas.time.com