The Truly Rich Lady On 'Rich People Problems,' the Book
C.C. Coo reviews Kevin Kwan's latest book.

Disclosure: I never finished the second book in Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians series, The Richer are Getting Richer (title mine, since I can't remember its name). I think I put it down midway because I was distracted by something called life.

It doesn't matter. Kwan’s third volume, Rich People Problems, is such a frothy read I was able to fill in the gaps. The Asian super rich continue to live large in mega-mansions with, say, a gilded room that has been flown in from a Hungarian palace or, maybe, a pet fish that has received a facelift; the protagonists Nicholas Young and Rachel Chu have sorted out Rachel’s daddy issues (she is really the daughter of a Chinese billionaire); and that fox Kitty Pong has completed her transformation from gaudy soap star to gaudy former soap star with more money than God.

Murakami this is not. Which is a good thing. What you want right now is a juicy yarn that you can devour over the weekend. What you want is to climb over the ivy-covered garden wall and see how the 0.001 percenters live. What you want is to lift the veil to discover the dirt. And, as the title implies, these bizarro people have lots of problems.

Shang Su Yi, matriarch of the Young-T’sien-Shang clan and number one Rachel anti-fan has a cardiac episode, which then sends all the members of her family in a mad scramble. If she croaks, there will be many problems: Who gets the bulk of the Young fortune, the keys to mythical Tyersall Park, the shares, the jewelry (the good pieces), the Celadon porcelain? For greedy kin like Eddie Cheng, how do I make sure that I inherit most of it? For prodigal son Nick, do I return to make up with the grandmother who hates my wife?

For Astrid Leong, there are even more things to worry about. Bitter divorce proceedings with husband Michael Teo and a secret relationship with ex-fiancé Charlie Wu has unspooled her perfect life in a very public way. And where is Rachel? Kwan must have finally figured out that she’s a total bore and relegates her to supporting character. That’s one problem solved.

You know how, when someone trips and falls on her face, you know you should not laugh, but you do anyway and it makes you feel bad, but you can't help it, it’s just so hilarious. You know you should turn away, but you keep watching. You feel super guilty, so you make the Sign of the Cross because, oh God, you just can’t help it. This is same feeling I get when reading this book. I shouldn’t still be awake at three in the morning, knee-deep in Problems and coffee, but I have to find out if Kitty’s latest social climbing scheme is going to work and if Astrid finally ends up with Charlie. I also have to skip all the pages with Rachel.


Of note, the book includes several mentions of the Philippines, which can be classified into two categories: the Filipino as a fellow crazy rich Asian or the Filipino as nanny or maid (even in fiction, the reality of the wealth disparity is clear). There are also bit characters based on real Filipinos (you will easily recognize them) and a couple of memorable scenes set here.

Kwan creates a fictional universe so full, with language as well adorned as the lives of the glittering characters he paints, so Problems becomes a compelling summer read. Just ignore the blocks of ant-sized footnotes that have contributed to my poor vision and the array of minor characters that has turned my brain foggy.

My only gripe is how everything gets tied up so neatly that the glorious tension built over many chapters deflates at the end (tell me if you were satisfied by the ending of the first book). But that's just me. I've always liked my books as complicated as my men. This, on the other hand, is a delicious, effortless work of fiction, and in the fantasy, the Truly Rich always win.


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C.C. Coo
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