Review

Crazy rich Asians have problems too

Kevin Kwan's third book, Rich People Problems, is out in Singapore today.
Kevin Kwan's third book, Rich People Problems, is out in Singapore today.PHOTO: DAVE ANDERSON

Kevin Kwan wraps up his outrageous trilogy skewering Singapore's wealthiest families by showing some heart

Twenty pages into Kevin Kwan's third book and a psychotic ex-wife has already gatecrashed a Fullerton Hotel banquet and chucked a bowl of extra-spicy laksa at the Dowager Sultana of Perawak, sending her to the hospital with first-degree burns.

Welcome back to the world of Crazy Rich Asians, where the Asians are richer and crazier than you imagined possible. And after the first two books, that is saying something.

Rich People Problems, out in Singapore today, wraps up a gloriously outrageous trilogy that has been skewering Singapore's wealthiest families since 2013 with breakout title Crazy Rich Asians. It is being adapted into a Hollywood film by Warner Bros.

While the first book centred on a high-society wedding, this one opens with the impending demise of the Young clan's iron-fisted matriarch Shang Su Yi, tipped to be the society funeral of the century, by invitation only.

  • FICTION

  • RICH PEOPLE PROBLEMS

    By Kevin Kwan

    Doubleday/ Hardcover/ 416 pages/ $46.30/Major bookstores

    4/5 stars

As she lies on her deathbed, her descendants gather like vultures at her sprawling mansion in the fictional Tyersall Park.

Each hopes to be the one to inherit Singapore's most desirable chunk of real estate, since Su Yi's one-time favourite grandson Nicholas Young risked being struck from her will when he defied her to marry Chinese-American economics professor Rachel Chu.

At the bidding of his incorrigibly grasping mother Eleanor, Nick returns to Singapore to make amends with his dying grandmother. That is, if he can get past the rest of his inheritance-crazed family first.

Kwan has outdone himself when it comes to the obscene wealth that made his first two books so delectable. The displays of excess in this book have gone beyond superlative and are now bordering on absurd.

For instance, a million-dollar marriage proposal takes place in an Indian maharajah's palace with a flash mob of hundreds and an elephant, as Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan serenades the couple.

Soap opera star-turned-billionaire's wife Kitty Pong puts it best: "If someone wrote a book about her, no one would believe it."

She has just flown into Paris on her private jumbo jet, bought up the entire Chanel fall-winter couture collection and had every piece made in triplicate. Indeed not, Kitty.

What rescues this spectacle of overblown extravagance is Kwan's knack for razor-sharp satire and impeccable comic timing.

The bawdier Singaporean reader will enjoy the exclamations of "Holy Annabel Chong!" and jokes such as "Aiyah, these days with viagra, even chee cheong fun can become you char kway".

But the most extraordinary revelation is that the book has heart.

One expects little after the caricatures and cardboard-thin romances of the first two books, which can be forgiven because they are colossally funny.

But this time, as the characters are faced with the imminent loss of a loved one, Kwan peels back the layers of razzle-dazzle to reveal a family that experiences grief like any other.

It is as unexpected as plastic surgery for arowana fish, but holy Anita Sarawak, it works.

If you like this, read: Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw (Fourth Estate, 2014, $21.40, Books Kinokuniya), about five newcomers to Shanghai who will do what it takes to make it to the big league.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2017, with the headline 'Crazy rich Asians have problems too'. Print Edition | Subscribe