Kwan (Crazy Rich Asians, 2013) returns with an equally good-natured, catty-as-hell sequel to his bestselling roman à clef about China’s new and old money dynasties.
For those not cued in, Kwan’s tone is breakneck and utterly disarming—part Oscar Wilde, part Judith Krantz, part Arthur Frommer—as he reintroduces his jet-setting ensemble of socialites and social climbers. They include: Nick and Rachel (star-crossed Asian-American lovers who are searching for her father while avoiding his meddlesome Singaporean mom); Mrs. Bernard Tai (aka Kitty Pong, former mainland soap-opera star, who must temper her nouveau urges if she hopes to impress members of Hong Kong’s exclusive dining clubs); Astrid Leong (married “beneath” her rank, wears off-the-rack dresses that, on her, pass for designer; her jewelry and class are the real deal, however); plus a circle of spoiled-rich 20-somethings who think they’re re-enacting The Fast and Furious. Whenever a character drops a salty Hokkien, Cantonese, or Mandarin phrase or an unfamiliar reference, Kwan translates in a wry footnote (a device he used to great effect in his previous book). Occasionally the sendups of squillionaire excess fall a little flat: “Look—it’s a koi pond,” gasps Rachel as she absorbs the décor of her Shanghai host’s private jet. “God, you scared me. For a moment I thought something was wrong,” answers her fiance, Nick, who stands to inherit one of China’s great fortunes but prefers teaching undergrads at NYU. “You don’t think anything’s wrong?” Rachel presses. No wonder Nick’s mom, the not-to-be-bested Eleanor Young, tries her utmost to topple their engagement! (Until she stumbles onto the true identity of Rachel’s birth father—and is now using it to reel her son home to face up to his privileged heritage, with unanticipated results.) Most hilarious when he’s parodying uber-rich Chinese aunties who’d “rather camp out six to a room or sleep on the floor than spend money on hotels” and professional image consultants who help clients “take [their] most embarrassing biographical details and turn them into assets,” Kwan keeps more than a few plot resolutions in the air but delivers at least one priceless declaration of love: “The bathroom [renovation] is fully funded….Now please pick out a dress.”
Over-the-top and hard to stop. A third installment is promised.