My mom read this book by Kevin Kwan a year or two ago and threw her copy at me, telling me I had to read it so we could discuss it, so of course it sat on my shelf, untouched for months. When the movie was announced, she told me I had to read it in time for us to go see the movie together. So I grabbed it when we went on vacation a few months ago so I could read it while we were gone.
It’s not the best book I’ve ever read, but it is a lot of fun. It’s about the Youngs, an insanely wealthy Chinese family living in Singapore. A friend of the family, Colin Khoo, is about to get married and his best man, Nick Young, has always been his grandmother’s favorite and it’s rumored that he’ll be the one to inherit her immense fortune when she dies.
Nick has been teaching at university in New York City and dating a Chinese-American woman for about two years. She does think it’s weird that he’s met her mom several times, but he hardly ever talks about his family, so she’s glad that he’s invited her to this wedding, but she’s not exactly picking out a wedding dress for herself yet (although her mom is).
Because Nick doesn’t actually have any of his family’s wealth yet, he’s just been living on his teacher’s salary, so Rachel has absolutely no idea what she’s getting into, until they get on the plane to Singapore and they’re flying first class, complete with complimentary drinks. It still doesn’t do anything to prepare her for Nick’s grandmother’s palace.
Unbeknownst to Rachel, as soon as it becomes known that Nick is bringing a date to the wedding, rumors abound as to who this Rachel Chu is. Is she a member of the Taiwanese Plastic Chus? Is she from *gasp* mainland China? When it becomes known that she’s a lowly Chinese-American, pretty much everyone becomes convinced that she’s a gold digger out for Nick’s money – except, because Nick never talks about his family or their money or spends extravagantly, Rachel has no idea what they’re talking about. Nevertheless, she’s forced to endure snide comments and fish guts in her hotel bed.
The only people not speculating about Rachel are Nick’s cousin, Astrid, because she is the best, and the bride and groom of the upcoming wedding. Astrid was my favorite character and she has her own plotline in which she discovers signs her husband is cheating on her and she confronts him, only to find out he’s been making it look like he’s having an affair so she’ll dump him and he can leave her family, who keep treating him like a servant simply because he actually works for a living.
But then Astrid’s ex-fiance, Charlie, not only helps her find out what’s really going on with him, but secretly invests in his start-up, making him a millionaire overnight. There’s no guarantee that it will heal the rift between him and Astrid, but there’s hope (Charlie still nurses a flame for her, but he’s unhappily married to someone else and divorce is out of the question).
Overall I liked the movie and I loved most of the cast, but Astrid was the one that really disappointed me. They cut out most of her story line (which makes sense because it’s a long book and there simply wasn’t enough time for all the drama between her and her husband in addition to the main action) and the actress looked like she was overusing Botox. But you should still see it because the clothes and sets alone make it worth seeing.
I listened to a podcast that talked about this movie and how they really didn’t get the sense that there was much of a connection between Rachel and Nick and they wondered if that was because they didn’t get their meet cute.
You get it in the book, but it doesn’t add much. Kwan just says that Chu didn’t like dating Asian guys, but after getting set up on a blind date with Nick and talking with him all night, she decided she liked Nick. There’s never any mention of what they talked about or bonded over and their relationship in the book is pretty weak, too. I would even hesitate to call this a romance because Nick and Rachel’s relationship was not what kept me reading. I felt like Rachel was more of a proxy for the reader as a way to introduce them to this ridiculous family and their world of stupid amounts of money.
The book is also not very well written. There are a number of adverbs, some of which get repeated within a page or two. Also Nick claims that weddings are contagious and being in his friend’s wedding made him want to propose to Rachel. I have never met a straight guy who feels that way about weddings. They just want to get it over with and they go through the whole thing like they’re being tortured.
There were also a number of scenes in which I felt the conflict was resolved much too quickly. I believe the characters would have gotten there eventually, but not in the span of one page. It’s something I think the movie did better than the book, but after all, this is Kwan’s first novel and I expect him to improve.
What did you guys read this week? Anything that didn’t quite live up to expectations, but was still fun?