Last January, I was asked to propose a book for our office’s book club. As always, I fret on choosing the “right book” to share because (1) I want others to enjoy the book, and (2) I want to enjoy reading the book too. I ended up choosing Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians. I’ve been curious about this book for almost a year now and this was the perfect opportunity to find the reason to actually read the book.
What do I think of Crazy Rich Asians? I like the book because it is pretty close to my heart being Chinese-Filipino who has lived through Chinese family dramas. It was something I could relate easily because the food/places in Singapore are familiar, and the traditions/themes are pretty similar to what I grew up with. And no, I did not live in an ultra-rich family so that part I cannot relate at all. What threw me off a bit is the excessive description of signature labels, and brands. It’s like he googled the list of a luxurious brands and designers and crammed it in the book. Of course, in the formalist approach, you can say that the excessive descriptions juxtapositions with the excess of the ultra-rich lifestyle. Yes, I went there.
The story of Rachel Chu and Nick Young did not really appeal to me. They seemed to be drowned with the other storylines that are more interesting. I think a big part of it is that I do not read the book in the eyes of a Rachel Chu — someone who is unaware of Chinese family cultures in Asia. She has been Americanized and has already culturally drifted away from what I know of. My favorite piece would be Astrid’s storyline which is just exquisite. This already crosses Mano Po levels but interesting nonetheless.
The Chinese family culture is something that really made me feel attached to the book. Even in the Filipino-Chinese community, you know of simple expectations that shape what you look for in a partner. Good thing my parents do not care about that, but I do have some relatives and friends who experience this. I know that speaking Chinese is pretty much a must, and belonging to a non-so-good family is pretty much frowned upon in a partner.
A lot of readers might think the relatives are pure evil. To some extent, I hate the fact that they are meddling to their children’s lives, but I also think about the cultural aspect of it. I’ve lived in a family where the parents’ rules are laws. It is not a democracy but a monarchy. The parents/head of the family pretty much has the say on everything. I never got to choose what to wear, or where to go. It even reached a point when I was a kid when my parents had to tell me not to associate with another kid because our families are not in good terms. There is no room for reasoning, or debates. It comes from an assumption that the head of family knows what’s best for the family, and this is love in Asian terms. They have a twisted view of what’s good or bad, but they mean well to be honest. Eleanor wants to protect Nick and the family from outsiders — yes, you are marrying into a family, not just a person.
Overall, it’s a good read and I’m pretty excited to discuss this in our book club. I might be the only Asian guy in that book club, so it’s interesting how they think about all of this. I like to hear how they view this, and at the same time, I like to share my experience and thoughts on it as well.