Books

Kevin Kwan
China Rich Girlfriend

Wealthy people have problems, too. Colette Bing, for example, once had a “terrible addiction” to international luxury spa resorts yet none met her exacting standards. So the twentysomething fashionista got Daddy, one of China’s richest men, to let her build one of her own. But even Colette can’t buy love. Mrs Bernard Tai, aka the former porn star known as Kitty Pong, meanwhile, can sail into a Hong Kong auction room with a pair of borzois on diamond leads and drop $US195 million on a rare set of Qing dynasty scrolls, but she’ll never be accepted by the circles that matter. 

China Rich Girlfriend’s central protagonist, Rachel Chu, by contrast, is a sensible, intelligent, kind-hearted economist who was raised in the United States by a Chinese single mother. The first novel in Kevin Kwan’s trilogy, Crazy Rich Asians, sees Rachel introduced into – and rejected by – this world of unimaginable wealth and social high stakes thanks to her relationship with Nick, a fellow academic in New York who turns out to be the scion of one of Singapore’s richest families with an estate the size of Central Park. As far as Nick’s family is concerned, Rachel’s beauty and kindness can never make up for her lack of money and connections. When we pick up the story in China Rich Girlfriend, Nick, who teaches in New York, hasn’t spoken to his mother for two years. Once her discovery that he is about to marry Rachel sets the plot in motion, it speeds along like a red Ferrari 458 Italia driven by the drunken heir of a Chinese fortune, bound to crash, strewing bodies everywhere.

 Author Kwan is like the Singaporean love child of Evelyn Waugh and Jane Austen, as raised on a diet of Sex and the City. He writes with wicked wit and meticulous attention to detail. And he describes the increasingly interconnected world of the Singaporean-Hong Kong-mainland Chinese mega-wealthy as only one raised within that milieu could: billionaires’ wives souveniring hotel shampoos; Colette snapping at her father for calling her home from “a very important dinner with the world’s most acclaimed chefs” and her father retorting, “… you would rather dine with the help?” 

This is the world of not so much the 1 per cent but the 0.1 per cent, and those who are not part of it are, one way or another, either its servants or its slaves. To quote one of the characters: “What a fucky, fucky mess.”   CG

Allen & Unwin, 400pp, $29.99

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 4, 2015 as "Kevin Kwan, China Rich Girlfriend". Subscribe here.

Reviewer: CG

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