China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan
Summer is waning way too quickly, but you still have a final week left to indulge in frothy reads: the over-the-top excesses of Singaporean Manhattanite Kevin Kwan’s novels might be just what you’ve been looking for as Labor Day looms. If you haven’t yet relished Kwan’s debut, Crazy Rich Asians, stop here and catch up. You’ll want Rachel and Nick’s backstory for maximum in-the-know enjoyment.
Let the jaw-dropping, eye-rolling, name-dropping resume…
In spite of the possible loss of his elite social status (what even billions can never buy), Nick Young marries his beloved Rachel Chu anyway. Raised by a single mother in a northern California suburb, Rachel doesn’t even register on the Youngs’ exclusive radar … until Nick’s estranged mother deduces a family secret that Rachel nor her mother could ever have imagined.
The newlyweds will have to work hard get to know the long-lost relatives, including China’s bad-boy with an-anguished-heart-of-gold (or should that be ‘antimatter‘? – at $100 trillion per gram, gold is comparatively cheap and tacky!). Waiting in the wings to pounce are his manipulative Tiger Mother, his glam-girl not-girlfriend, and – of course – the parasitic paparazzi.
Meanwhile, Nick’s mother is making nice with the second-highest-powered Chinese politician’s wife, Nick’s favorite cousin Astrid has a suddenly-rich husband who no longer knows his place, and his classmate Bernard is hiding out being an organic, gluten-free vegan in California.
Youngs, Chus, Leongs aside, the most deliciously engrossing, can’t-turn-away-train-wreck-of-a-side-story swirls around outsider Kitty Pong, once a Hong Kong soap opera star with grandiose plans for social ascension. She married the wrong man in Crazy Rich Asians, but here in China Rich the right mentor appears to guide her into the upper echelons – for an exorbitant price. Her transformation into Katherine Tai is miraculous and hysterical both, from well-timed disappearances to holy church invites to god-searching travel to a possible visit to Oprah’s school. That her makeover requires a prescribed reading list which includes Janice Y.K. Lee’s The Piano Teacher in the #2 spot was enough to keep me (literally) enthralled (and guffawing, too).
Kwan’s billionaire-eat-billionaire world fueled by more zeros than sense undoubtedly makes for a giggly summer fling. That said, when that final track ended (Lydia Look isn’t quite accurate with her British English, but she narrates with just the right blend of anxiety and privilege), I admit to being gleefully grateful and wholly relieved at being just one of the regular folk.