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September 2017

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So there are a lot of deep important books I wanted to read but the news has been so depressing lately that I'd rather not. Anyway, once I read that they cast Michelle Yeoh and Constance Wu for Crazy Rich Asians, I was like, dammit now I have to read this. If you like light, breezy, fast-paced chatty chicklit about the rich Asian elite diaspora that make the American rich elite look like rank amateurs when it comes to opulence and overspending, you'll like this book. There's so much name-dropping and so much designer worship but also so many arguments about where to get the best Singaporean food that it'll make you really hungry. There doesn't seem to be that much in LA, but here's some to check out.

Anyway, at its core, the book is about Rachel Chu and Nick Young, who are both professors seeking tenure in the US. Nick invites Rachel to Singapore to meet his family, without informing her that he's pretty ridiculously rich and is dumb enough that he thinks his mom and grandma would think that he could just marry whoever he wants without any social consequences. It's a fish out of water story for Rachel, and we're basically seeing the Singapore elite world through her eyes. There's also a parallel story with Astrid, Nick's cousin, who is super-rich on her own and has the most expensive taste for couture, but somehow managed to settle down with a guy who insists on earning his own living instead of taking her father's money and gifts.

For the most part the book is rich people porn. Also Singapore porn, as the country and its food are lovingly detailed to the hilt.

So, it's also been a long time since I read actual Asian American lit, and in that light, this book was refreshing in more than a few ways. The most important being that it's not another goddamn narrative about how miserable it is to grow up Asian American and how they're trying to figure out their identity. Maybe it's because these characters are older, but they're comfortable in their skin, even as they have a bit of unease about their own identity (Rachel hasn't dated Asian men in a while for specific reasons until Nick), and it's just part of their life and not all-consuming. Kevin Kwan talks in this interview about he "began writing the book, because I wanted to introduce the West to the concept of the real Asia and contemporary Asia, where people are empowered and their lives don’t revolve around the West at all."

Apparently it's been 26 years since Joy Luck Club. I wonder how I would feel re-reading it.

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