It’s hard to sum up how I feel about this book because I found it very long and packed with experiences, so that my attitude towards the beginning of the book changed by its end.
~The story follows Nick Young and Rachel Chu as they decide to travel to Singapore for a summer holiday together, with Nick’s parallel intention of introducing Rachel to his family. Little does she know that her naturally good-looking, charming, history professor of a boyfriend actually hails from a long established and indescribably wealthy family. Through undetected contacts beginning in New York and traveling through the grapevine to friends and family in Singapore, word gets out that Nick Young is bringing back an ABC (American Born Chinese) girl. Nick’s family–and in particular his mother–immediately prepare themselves to defend the family honour against this presumed gold-digger.
Interspersed between Nick and Rachel’s journey to and through Singapore are various glimpses into the lives of the rich and famous Singapore and Chinese elite and just how their wealth and status motivated, manipulated, and–in some cases–tormented their lives.~
My first impression of the book was that it was very (almost too) long for its subject, and that it was overly excessive in the designer and celebrity name-dropping; it felt almost like an attempt to prove that China & Singapore outdid the West in terms of its wealthy elite. I also didn’t know how to interpret the footnotes, which I found distracting. While I appreciated the explanations and translations, I wasn’t sure at times whether the author was keeping to dry wit of the story, or commenting from personal experience.
As I continued through the story, however, I found myself eagerly turning pages to uncover what would happen to these characters that I’d started to befriend. That’s a great strength of the book: its characters and rich atmosphere. I liked the way in which the author dipped into different perspectives, giving the reader insight into the real experiences–motivates, worries, values laid bare–of the various characters. Towards the end of the story, I felt that I really knew and sympathized with Rachel, and that I wanted to befriend Astrid.
Through colorful descriptions, you get a sense of the vibrancy of the flavours and luxury of the world into which Nick introduces Rachel. The frequent use of cultural phrases and slang (note to readers: there are several instances of strong language and crudities throughout), together with humorously depicted scenes of Singaporean and Chinese family mannerisms, also help in painting the scene. By the end of it all, I’m left open-mouthed at the reality that yes, there really must be crazy, rich Asians out.
A final thing that bothers me a bit, though, is the book’s ending (NOT giving a spoiler, don’t worry!). Basically, the story culminates into an EVENT and you’re reeling, thinking–did that just happen?? The story picks itself back up again with what’s meant to be a hopeful conclusion; however, I found that the EVENT was so serious (if this were real life, it would be a serious issue) that it couldn’t be realistically or satisfactorily resolved in the way it was. So I was left a little deflated, wondering yet also dreading what would happen to the characters that I’d befriended.
I’d definitely recommend this book for an entertaining and culturally enlightening read.