For the past few months, the entertainment that has given me the greatest amount of joy has been Crazy Rich Asians. I consumed this trilogy like some terrible addiction (oh, we’re not talking about my caffeine problem?) and I’ve been powerless to stop babbling about the series in every social situation.
I remember reading about the first (eponymous) book in the trilogy when it was first published, but I had just graduated college and had lived in a house of foreign students and felt I knew everything I really needed to know about people with money to burn. Over the years, I heard from every possible source that the Crazy Rich Asians and its follow-up China Rich Girlfriend, were hilarious, smart, and ridiculously fun. But I’m known for being stubborn.
The final installment, Rich People Problems, came out in May, and the media attention it received finally pushed me over the edge. I bought a copy of Crazy Rich Asians and decided to give it a shot.
With books I love, I tend to have a moment where I’m “in it.” I’m invested. The moment I know that I’m going to savor what comes next, the moment I know that–soon–I won’t be able to put the book down.
With Crazy Rich Asians, that moment happened at the end of the prologue. I started the book on a week night, so I tried to ration the book at first (you know, so I could still do important things like go to work)–a chapter with breakfast one morning, another before bed the next night–but I read the majority of the novel is one large gulp on a slow Saturday.
The book reads like the best gossip you’ve ever heard about people you like (Astrid, Nick & Rachel) and hate (Edison, Colette) in equal measure. This is a series that takes you inside the salons of Paris couturiers and the estates of secretive billionaires. Every book features the society something (wedding, gala, funeral) of the year–each more over the top than the last. I couldn’t help but root for these people. Money doesn’t always free you; often, it chains you.
Crazy Rich Asians follows Rachel Chu, an American woman of Chinese descent, and her boyfriend, Nicholas Young–who, unbeknownst to her–comes from one of the wealthiest families in Singapore (actually, in all of Asia). Nick’s family is so rich they don’t appear on any list of rich families. Rachel and Nick are both professors, and Nick convinces Rachel to spend the summer with him in Asia, where he’s preparing for his best friend Colin Khoo’s wedding. Nick seems to be Singapore’s most eligible bachelor, and his family–particularly his mother Eleanor–has big plans for him. Plans that don’t include Rachel.
In China Rich Girlfriend, Nick and Rachel prepare for their wedding. Neither of them has spoken to his family since the engagement Nick’s mother and wealthy grandmother Su Yi tried to stop. Rachel, meanwhile, has grown curious about her biological father, and it turns out that Eleanor’s meddling will lead her straight to him.
In the final installment, Rich People Problems, Nick returns to Singapore after his grandmother’s health takes a turn for the worse. Her illness forces the family into a panic as everyone speculates about the contents of her will. With Su Yi estranged from her favorite grandson (Nick), several cousins jockey for position, hoping to inherit her grand estate in the heart of Singapore, which is worth billions.
Although Nick and Rachel provide a throughline for the series, I was equally (if not more) entranced by a number of other characters whose POVs are included. Astrid Leong, Nick’s favorite cousin, shops at the finest couture houses in Paris and mingles with nobles but lives in a comparatively small apartment in Singapore. Her home is a concession to her husband, Michael, an entrepreneur who insists on paying for their lifestyle himself (despite the fact that Astrid is worth hundreds of millions). When things go south with Michael, Astrid pines for her ex-fiancé Charlie, whose “new money” was looked down upon by her parents a decade ago. Astrid and Nick’s cousin Edison Cheng, whose insecurity about his wealth and his obsession with keeping up appearances (which involves forcing his wife and children to wear matching outfits) provides much of the series’ comic relief. And never underestimate the scheming of Eleanor Young, who has never felt fully accepted by her husband’s family and has all of her hopes pinned on Nick to inherit the bulk of his grandmother Su Yi’s estate–as long as he does exactly what’s expected of him.
When I finished Rich People Problems last week, I put the book down and thought “I would happily follow these people throughout the rest of their lives.” Three books in a series felt like too few, and I can’t remember the last time I thought that. I suppose there’s the movie to console me next year. But Kevin Kwan, if you’re reading, I’ll preorder books four, five, and six.