A Gold-Plated Read

0616_book-review2I’m Chinese, and while many can get excited about the intimate stories of the exceptionally rich, these tales seem to be quickly becoming passé. The book is all about glitz, and even the cover doesn’t disappoint with its enlarged letters backed by a special color, now known in China as tuhao jin, or nouveau rich gold. No wonder it was an international bestseller.

Though starting out with a bang, Kevin Kwan’s debut novel increasingly led to a disappointing experience. For the westerners who have been hearing about China’s nouveau rich that spend millions on golden weddings, buy whole vineyards in France or carelessly crash Ferraris, it might seem exotic. But to typical Chinese, it’s not crazy.

If the craziness refers to the flaunting of insane wealth, I certainly don’t see how flying private jets or owning mysterious mansions should ultimately mean that much.

If the craziness refers to the girls who try hard to scare Rachel away with childish antics and manipulation, explain how this is worse than the group of cruel girls in high school.

The author is willing to spend pages dropping names and talking about the prices of property. He even goes into deep detail just listing families’ net worth—it’s just a huge collection of people that mean nothing to me.

And finally, it’s not even Asian, though the book title makes an ambitious attempt to portray otherwise. It’s not even Chinese. It’s mainly Singaporean Chinese who have very little to do with Chinese mainlanders. To foreigners, they might all be Chinese, but to an actual Chinese person, the difference is as wide as the Pacific Ocean.

We share roots and traditions, but as the book accurately points out, Chinese who left a few hundred years before the People’s Republic was established tend to cling to tradition much more than those who stayed. I met an old Chinese-French man who still wears a traditional Chinese long shirt and holds a dragon-head walking stick. He also ordered me to quit my job if I were to marry his grandson.

It was rather interesting to see how similar some of the old money individuals in the book are with overseas Chinese I have met, but then again, they are different from Chinese mainlanders in every possible way. And to me, a person can never truly understand what is both crazy and rich until they see the real insanity that’s happening in China everyday.