Wednesday, May 15, 2019
Published June 2013 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: checked out from my local library
When New Yorker Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home and quality time with the man she hopes to marry. But Nick has failed to give his girlfriend a few key details. One, that his childhood home looks like a palace; two, that he grew up riding in more private planes than cars; and three, that he just happens to be the country’s most eligible bachelor.
On Nick’s arm, Rachel may as well have a target on her back the second she steps off the plane, and soon, her relaxed vacation turns into an obstacle course of old money, new money, nosy relatives, and scheming social climbers.
I finally decided it was time to read this book after catching the movie adaptation on t.v., which I thought was a lot of fun, if somewhat hard to keep track of who was who. I felt the same way about the book…for the most part.
Kirkus Reviews suggests this book is “Edith Wharton goes to Singapore” – which is funny because that’s exactly what I was thinking as I was reading the details of every dish served at every meal. That's actually one of my favorite things about Wharton’s The Age of Innocence; I could vividly picture the dining tables laden with silver platters of rich foods, could imagine the tastes of those foods, get a picture of the kinds of people who would sit around a table that overloaded with food. The problem here is that I have no idea what most of the dishes Kwan’s describing are – I can’t picture them on the table, can’t conjure up the flavors. So I skimmed the paragraphs where he described the meals. Yep, I get it – long paragraph about food equals lots of food on the table. Moving on. Ditto his descriptions of designer clothes, high-end automobiles, exorbitant jewelry, and private planes. I’m sure there are readers who will recognize all of the names; but I didn’t for the most part, so the only way I knew that the characters thought nothing of buying the most expensive clothing was because Kwan attached a name to it.
All that being said, I absolutely enjoyed learning about a part of the world which is so unknown to me. Kwan did a terrific job of making me feel the claustrophobia of these Asian cities that have had such tremendous growth along with tremendous wealth, of bringing his settings to life, and of explaining the complexities of the relationships between the various cultures. And, yes, of giving me a vivid image of what a room full of people dressed to impress looked like. I could also easily imagine how overwhelmed Rachel would have been amongst all of those people. Rich or not, I could easily picture a room full of those "aunties" bearing down on me and the struggle it would be to be "on" all of the time. Add to all of that terrific satire and some wonderful one-liners and you’ve got yourself a book I raced through. I really appreciated all of the footnotes as another tool for learning and because it meant that Kwan didn’t “Americanize” his characters speech and make it feel less authentic.
Will I read the next book in the trilogy? The verdict’s still out on that one. I have it on hold at the library but I feel like there are too many books I’d rather get to instead. I enjoyed that characters in this book; I’m just not sure I enjoyed them enough to read more about them.