New Book Fetish – Kevin Kwan

CHINA RICH GIRLFRIEND
By Kevin Kwan
Doubleday
$26.95
ISBN 9780385539081

Published 06/16/2015
Fiction / Popular Fiction

July 2015

KEVIN KWAN
The lifestyles of Asia’s rich and famous
BookPage interview by Amy Scribner
Kevin Kwan is not where one might expect to find a best-
selling, New York City-dwelling author. “I’m taking a little
break before the craziness of three solid months of touring,”
Kwan says from an undisclosed southwestern location far,
far away from Manhattan. “I thought I’d look at rabbits
frolicking in a field for a while first.”
The tour is to support China Rich Girlfriend , the raucous
sequel to his acclaimed debut, Crazy Rich Asians. In it, we
catch up with several familiar faces, as down-to-earth
Rachel Chu gets married to professor Nicholas Young, who
has given up his inheritance to be with her. Rachel grew up
not knowing who her father was, and when she discovers
his identity she eagerly hops a plane to China to meet him.
Nothing can prepare her for the unbelievable “China rich”
culture that awaits her, where an exploding economy allows
multibillionaires to look down on regular billionaires.
Kwan, who was raised in a wealthy family in Singapore
before moving to the United States at age 11, drew upon his
own experiences to color both his novels.
“I grew up with that sort of old world money,” he says. “I
was not really conscious of that till I stepped out of it and
thought, oh my gosh, that was kind of freaky. You go to
houses with sunken pools filled with sharks. It is a world
with its own dysfunctions.”
Kwan insists that the over-the-top wealth he describes in
China Rich Girlfriend —socialites hopping on their private
747s complete with koi ponds, spending nearly $200 million
on a single piece of artwork—is based in reality.
“In many ways, it’s toned down. The truth is so much
more fascinating than anything I could fictionalize.”
“In many ways, it’s toned down,” he says. “My editor had to
step in and say, ‘Kevin, this is bordering on fantasy. It’s like
you’re writing Game of Thrones.’ But it was real. The truth
is so much more fascinating than anything I could
fictionalize. For example, the China rich are importing
expensive racecars and killing themselves in these horrible
accidents.”
That truth served as the inspiration for Carlton, son of Bao
Gaoliang, a prominent politician and heir to a
pharmaceutical fortune. When Carlton crashes his car in
London, his mother, Bao Shaoyen, rushes in to cover up the
death of a girl in the passenger’s seat and—seemingly
higher on her priority list—to set her son up with the best
plastic surgeons. This is the family Rachel comes into when
she discovers Bao Gaoliang is her father. Despite their
radically different upbringings, Rachel and Carlton form an
unlikely friendship, but Bao Shaoyen refuses to
acknowledge her husband’s illegitimate daughter, whom she
fears will irreparably harm her family’s reputation.
China Rich Girlfriend is the most fun I’ve had reading a book
in quite some time. The vibrantly drawn characters and
equally vivid settings in and around Beijing make for a jam-
packed, lively story. And it was just as fun to write, Kwan
says.
“I found myself laughing out loud at so many sections as I
wrote,” he says. “You become like a demon possessed—I had
so much fun traveling and doing the research to saturate
this world. I did want an element of gravitas but you have
to balance that with lightness. This is not an episode of
‘Oprah.’”
Kwan traveled to China to prepare for writing the sequel,
and even after several trips overseas, he was surprised by
what he found.
“Every time I go there, it’s almost utterly a different place,”
he says. “It never ceases to amaze me. Mainland Chinese
are so utterly different from Asian Americans. Here,
cultures and traditions are completely intact, things like
foods and festivals, whereas in China, the Cultural
Revolution erased the Chinese culture completely in many
ways. So I would meet these young Chinese, and they don’t
know where the root of their belief system comes from—it’s
erased from their memory, which is liberating in a way.”
The result is a cast of characters who are wholly believable
and human. But even with meticulous research, Kwan said
writing a sequel to a book that did as well as Crazy Rich
Asians was daunting.
“I was very conscious about whether there should even be a
book two,” he says. “To me, there was something kind of
perfect about the way I ended the [first] book. Some agreed
—and of course I also heard the screams from those who
didn’t.”
Among those who claim to have no opinion about either of
his books are several members of his family.
“There are a lot of people in my family who claim not to
have read my books,” he says wryly. “They genuinely may
not have read it. They’re too busy nurturing their fortune. I
have many cousins who loved it—they get it—they know this
world.”
Kwan is still getting used to the idea that his books could be
hotly anticipated. Entertainment Weekly recently named
China Rich Girlfriend one of six books to look forward to this
summer, along with offerings by the likes of Stephen King
and—wait for it—Harper Lee.
“I was kind of flabbergasted,” he says. “Harper Lee is really
one of my favorite authors. To Kill a Mockingbird was such
a seminal book for me. I read it in college—it’s a disservice
to read it when you’re too young. You need to have already
come of age. It was an unbelievable kind of thrill to be even
mentioned in the same breath as her.”
For now, though, Kwan is focused on his own calm before
the storm of what is sure to be another bestseller. The
promotion plans include his hosting an interactive guide of
New York City’s craziest, richest Asian hotspots. What is yet
to be decided is whether this will become a trilogy.
“It really depends on how well this book does,” Kwan says
cheerfully, “and whether people want a third.”

This article was originally published in the July 2015 issue of Bookpage.
Credit: Bookpage website.

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