China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan
Singapore born New York designer Kevin Kwan’s second novel is set in the insanely glitzy world of the really, really rich; not just billionaire rich, but China rich. Kwan gives us a view of the eccentric and down right crazy behavior of people who bebop in their private 747s around the world, collect houses and cars, and strip a Paris boutique of “everything on that wall except these three.”
These gazillionaires can have everything they want, but what they care about mostly is family, relations with other elite families, and finding love. The novel recounts several intertwined plots as several extended and entangled families in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Shanghai maneuver for prestige, legacy, and to spoil and protect their children.
Kwan gives us slices of this life, with a rather sympathetic view of these excesses and antics of this crowd. These people are spoiled, these people are obnoxious, these people are selfish. But we see them as people whose weaknesses have been disastrously indulged by absurd wealth and privilege. They are people, and they love their (impossibly spoiled) children, are anxious and neurotic about what people think about them.
The plot makes little sense outside this world. By ordinary standards, many of these people are pathological if not criminal. Furthermore, they are surrounded by a cloud of servants, cronies, and enablers, without whom they would be helpless. Kwan portrays their life with a bit of humor and empathy, but does not whitewash the cruelty, waste, and unhappiness.
Kwan is a designer, and this book is an excuse for him to go nuts describing luxurious outfits, architecture, dining, and all the other things he might do if he could. I haven’t a clue myself , but I’m betting these are accurate descriptions of couture, high end hotels, and fine Chinese food. You may want to read the book just for his refined drooling over these wonders.
For anyone who hadn’t realized that Shanghai is now the center of world commerce and style, this book will open your eyes. And this book sketches the outlines of the global Chinese culture, in its self-referential complexity. Old families in Singapore, Hong Kong versus “mainland”, rural China versus the big cities, ABC (American Born Chinese) and other overseas communities. The social landscape is unfamiliar to me, and I’m sure to most non-Chinese, which makes the story all the more intriguing and entertaining.
These are not my peeps, but its fun to read about them, and Kwan writes well enough to make me care about them. (I still don’t care about the fancy stuff, but I’m just a peasant, aren’t I?)
- Kevin Kwan, China Rich Girlfriend, New York, Anchor Books, 2015.
Sunday Book Reviews