Updated: Dec 19, 2021
Did you know the movie Crazy Rich Asians was based on a book? I didn't. Until I was strolling through the stacks of books laid out for the Shasta Library Book Sale and came upon a copy of the book Crazy Rich Asians. I immediately snapped it up and as soon as I was done with the series I was reading, I started on this.
I was surprised at first by the depth of culture in the book. Perhaps because, on-screen, the culture, while there, is easier to understand. When an author writes that a character was eating a particular Asian dish, it can be difficult for someone who is not from (or who has not had the chance to visit) that region to visualize that dish. When the dish is on screen, it becomes clear. The same is true for particular clothing, customs, and buildings.
But the book was not at all confusing. The author knew that many would have difficulty understanding his references to Asian culture and clearly wanted his book to touch more than just the hands of those who would understand the culture prior to reading the book. So to offset a large number of references to Asian culture, he included footnotes to explain the references.
I absolutely loved this. In many books, I think this would seem out of place and annoying but the author did this excellently. He explained clothing, vocabulary, cuisine, geography, customs, and other cultural references in the footnotes of the pages of his book so that the book itself could be written as though every reader already understood the words. The characters often spoke Chinese phrases (I say "Chinese" as opposed to Mandarin because the phrases were multiple different Chinese languages) without translation (aside from the footnotes) referred to Asian style dishes, or wore particular clothing that had to be explained (but wasn't aside from the footnotes). The inclusion of the footnotes made for an incredibly smooth book but explained the cultural references to those of us who are uncultured.
I also simply appreciated it because it taught me a lot. It was a beautiful book with a beautiful story to tell but, like I was able to when I read More Than Just a Pretty Face, I learned some of the culture from the book. It was not only a lesson in culture but a lesson in what fiction reading can do for you. TEACH!
I will admit, though, it did become a little bit confusing to follow quickly. Though Kwan creates some amazing characters in his novel, many of them have similar personalities and names and I found it difficult to keep track of who was who. Most of the major characters were easy to remember (particularly because they had larger roles in the movie which I had seen before even knowing it was based on a book). Some of the smaller characters, however, were a little more confusing. While the family tree in the beginning of the book was helpful, I did lose track of who was supposed to be on the family tree. At one point, it was revealed someone had slept with someone else and I was in an outrage. Weren't they family?!?!
Honestly, though, the book was truly beautiful. Kwan not only has amazing characters with clear goals and intentions, who are described so well they could be real people, he also describes his world so well you can see it. Or maybe that's just because I have seen it.
The book does relate pretty well to the movie though there are definitely a few twists and turns that did surprise me. I was sad to see that the character given to Astrid in the book was not as beautiful as the one woven for her in the movie. I loved how she interacted with Rachel in the movie and how she threw aside her cheating husband. I did prefer the way that Nick was given more flaws in the book as in the movie his only flaw seemed to be sticking up for his family and believing them when they revealed Rachel's past. The ending for the book was also very blunt. While the movie's ending seemed to fix more of the problems and then slowly end, the book almost seemed as though it needed another ten pages or so (or perhaps an epilogue?).
I would 100% read this book again and recommend it to anyone looking for a good romance novel, dive into culture, book to movie novel, or simply a fun read.