by Kevin Kwan
“What should I have told you?” Nick asked, genuinely perplexed. “All this,” Rachel cried, waving her hands around at the opulent bedroom they were standing in. “The fact that there’s an army of Gurkhas with dogs protecting your grandmother while she sleeps, the fact that you grew up in friggin’ Downton Abbey, the fact that your best friend was throwing the most expensive wedding in the history of civilization! You should have told me about your family, about your friends, about your life here, so I could at least know what I was getting myself into.” Nick sank onto the chaise lounge, sighing wearily. “Astrid did try to warn me to prepare you, but I was so sure that you’d feel right at home when you got here.“
It’s not that the family of our hero, Nick, is so rich. It is that they are so elite, so rarefied, and, as an afterthought, so fabulously and insanely wealthy. But you have to be more than rich to enter their exalted world. Their family home is on a 69 acre estate in the middle of over populated Singapore where property goes for $2000.00 a square foot. It’s equivalent to a family home situated on acreage in the middle of Central Park in Manhattan. And it is that this property does not even exist according to Google Maps. (“this crowd made Upper East Side girls look like Mennonites.”) Our heroine, Rachael’s, best friend’s father, a wealthy, connected, and successful property developer, but who came from humble beginnings, had never heard of the family. Such is their power to protect their privacy and exclusivity. His quest to get the scoop on who his daughter’s friend’s fiancé really is leads to one of the highlights of the book: his meeting with his old wise friend Dr. Goh. It is a revelation for him, and for the reader.
The book is constructed so as to set up the anticipation of the culture and personal clash between ordinary Chinese American Rachael and Her boyfriend Nick’s family from the very beginning. From the first it is established that Nick is mishandling the whole situation and naively setting his beloved Rachael up for embarrassment and humiliation. I was angry and incredulous over his stupidity. Would he see the light? Will he redeem himself?
Thumbprint sketches of dozens of characters throughout the book are so intriguing that we look forward to their next appearance in the story. What havoc will they wreak? Or will they become or continue to be a support and ally of Rachael or Nick? There are so many characters that some are necessarily left hanging, hopefully to be picked up again in one of the subsequent books in the series. The Family Tree was definitely needed and I had to refer to it often.
But to me, one of the primary reasons this book succeeds is because of Rachael. She never tries to be anything other than what she is: a middle class highly educated nice woman who is proud of her own history and accomplishments. She remains down to earth and poised in the face of some very stiff challenges, She navigates some very choppy waters and at least one tsunami. When she is thrown for a loop, it has little to do with the vicious behavior on the part of some of Nick’s family and friends. And yes, there are some twists and double twists. The writers voice is humorous and there are some funny if eye-rollingly bizarre scenes. Imagine a muggle sent to Hogwarts by mistake. I found this book delightful but with some sharp edges and I cant wait to read the second in the series.**5 out of 5 stars**
October 9, 2018