Monday, July 29, 2013

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Rich boy meets down to earth ABC (American Born Chinese) girl in NYC and brings her home to his crazy rich Asian family in Singapore.

Cue a clash of cultures, generations and fashions ensues! 

Kevin Kwan’s delicious romp of a book is best described as Joy Luck club meets Pride and Prejudice meets Dynasty.

Needless to say the overtop bling book cover totally matches the over top story.

This hilarious satirical book skewers the tensions and pretensions between the established crazy rich old families and the newly rich from mainland China.

The story begins with Nicholas ‘Nick’ Young, from the venerated Young family, who decides to bring his new girlfriend Rachel Chu home to attend the wedding of this best friend Colin Khoo.

Rachel has no idea that Nicholas is from a crazy rich Asian family and it is through her eyes that the reader discovers the excessive lifestyles of the unbelievabley rich in Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Nick is part of three intertwined super rich families who are connected through marriage and money. This is an environment where no-one blinks at owning a private jet with a yoga studio or a yacht with a bowling alley that turns into a catwalk. Cray cray!!!

While the novel drops brand names like there is no tomorrow, I loved the fact that it is also drops food names with mouth-watering descriptions of Nyonya (Straits Chinese) and Peranakan food.

It picks up on the obsession with food in Singapore, as the characters argue about where to get the best laksa. I know you'll love these these parts of book Tseenster!

It is also full of slang-lah from Malay and the Cantonese and Hokkien dialects of Chinese that is explained in the sometimes snarky, always amusing and witty, footnotes.

In between all the high gloss, I liked the way Kwan picks up on the subtleties of Chinese manners and customs. 

The first chapter is a particularly delicious example of what happens when a snooty English hotel receptionist  dismisses the Young family. No one puts the Youngs in the corner!

My only issue with the book is that it was just a bit too long and dragged towards the end. Also one of the main characters, Astrid (Nick’s cousin), storyline is totally boring.

But this one minor quibble in an page turning outrageously fun book.

Monday, July 22, 2013

A masterpiece: John Le Carré's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

A well written spy novel is a thing of beauty.

A lot of the enjoyment is the fact that you never know just which character to trust; what with the crosses, double crosses and the often inevitable triple cross.

John Le Carré's, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) is a classic of the genre and I thought it was time I read it.

Set in the height of the Cold War (1950s and early 1960s), the novel begins with the assassination of a high ranking East German double agent providing intelligence to the British Secret Service (the ‘Circus’).

The agent in charge, Alec Leamas, is recalled to the British Secret Service in London. He then becomes involved in an intricate plot played out in the London and East Germany to revenge the assassination.

This thrilling and gripping read is simply a masterpiece in controlled story telling.

The novel is immaculately plotted and the various twist and turns reach a nail-biting crescendo of a trial scene.

I simply couldn’t read fast enough to finish.

However, not to give too much away but the ending is so utterly bleak. It this sense it is very English compared the American spy genre where the hero always triumphs over the enemy.

Finishing the book I felt both exhilarated and exhausted. I felt such a sense of despair at the end of the novel. Le Carré's seems to be pointing to the utter futility of the ‘game’, its dubious morality and the cost on the lives of those who play it.

As Boyd Tonkin notes in his Guardian profile of Le Carré:

“Inside his fiction, doubles, distortions and delusions trapped apparent enemies into a mutually dependent system of organised duplicity. It binds its members absolutely, determining their life or death, while leaving outsiders truly out in the cold.”

My intention was to start reading Le Carré's George Smiley series (of which this book is part of) but actually feel the need for a bit of a break.