It’s hard to read a book like Crazy Rich Asians while living a decidedly middle class life. It’s probably harder still if you’re not the beneficiary of a defined benefits pension plan and in a unionized position like I am. The book sets out to be fun [insert jazz hands]! To introduce the west to contemporary Asia! To put displays of excess on the page for ogling. Because if you can’t have your own billion dollars, the next best thing must be to read about it, right?
I hoped the book was conscious of its omission or surface treatment of the yawning income inequality and labour exploitation that makes such wealth possible, that it might give due consideration to the work and lives of the people for whom a million dollars is not something you spend accidentally while shopping for more different diamonds to compliment. It doesn’t. There’s a mention of how one billionaire rewards his childhood nanny with her own house. As if that is some kind of recompense for the working class writ large.
Mostly the book is one prolonged shopping spree wrapped around a thinly veiled Cinderella plot of poor girl finds herself in the arms of handsome, rich prince. In this case stymied by his family, rather than hers. Ultimately to find love because of their wholesomeness and down-to-earth-ness (and TENURED JOBS. BECAUSE OF COURSE IN ADDITION TO BEING INDEPENDENTLY BILLIONAIRES THEY NEED TO ALSO TAKE TENURED JOBS). (Sorry. Did I accidentally hit my caps lock?) Because there’s just real people. Living incredibly rich lives.
I *think* the book is trying to saying that incredibly rich people have it hard, too. They, too, worry about finding love. About making their families happy. About being well received and well perceived and so on. And in a better book, or a better written one, there might have been a way to invite me to empathy on this score. To help me, a rich in my own right, reader, see how wealth doesn’t solve interpersonal problems (just the measurable ones like what to eat and where to live), that there is something like a ‘relative’ experience of wealth. But it’s not a very well written book in this respect. Or any respect?
So… just like my last post, this isn’t one I’d have finished had it not been for book club. I mean I read it quickly, and couldn’t look away, in the Real Housewives sense of being wrapped up in the excess. But at the end I just felt sad and bitter and reminded that I am privileged still.