Rich vein of humour uncovered

JILLIAN ALLISON-AITKEN
Last updated 13:06 01/05/2014

BOOK REVIEW: Crazy Rich Asians
By Kevin Kwan (Allen & Unwin, RRP $37)

We all enjoy a sneaky peek into the lives of the fabulously rich and, over the years, those financially blessed citizens have copped more than their fair share of sniggers at the hands of some very clever writers.

From Evelyn Waugh to Henry James, there is a "rich" (pardon the pun) tradition of having a giggle over the lives of the upper crust.

This book is in that same tradition, and this time offers up rich Asian stereotypes.

In modern-day Asia, a millionaire is created every minute and author Kevin Kwan knows that world well. Using his insider knowledge, he has lifted the lid on the rituals, fashion and quirks of Asia's jet set.

This is the story of three super- rich, super-pedigreed and just plain super Chinese families, and all the scheming and gossip that comes packaged with all that money; especially when Nick, heir to one of Asia's largest fortunes, brings home his American-born Chinese (gasp) girlfriend, Rachel.

The young woman is an economics lecturer, but that doesn't matter to Nick's domineering mum: her pedigree is what's important.

Like most people, I buy into the stereotypes pretty easily, with my thoughts on the very wealthy swinging from a touch of jealousy (lucky buggers, I know money doesn't buy happiness but I'd like to give it a good crack) to full-on, snorting derision (bunch of chinless wonders, money also doesn't buy class).

That sort of stereotyping can work well in a book, or it can come across as mean-spirited and lazy. In this case, it works incredibly well: Kevin Kwan has created characters that are as endearing as they are infuriating and, as a result, the book is an absolute hoot.

Even US Vogue editor Anna Wintour liked it, calling it "mordantly funny", and I didn't think she had a sense of humour. See, there I go with the cliched stereotyping again, but until I saw a photo of her sitting beside David Beckham at a fashion show, I didn't know the woman was even capable of smiling.

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