Parody of rich Asians a local hit

Parody of rich Asians a local hit

By Rhonda Dredge

You can say a lot more in fiction than you can in other genres and novelist Kevin Kwan is free and easy about lampooning rich Asians and their pretensions.

His latest novel Sex and Vanity is so popular that it has 48 reserves on it at Library on the Dock.

Librarians have tried to remedy the situation by creating a “play list” of similar reads.

It’s still not possible to browse in person at City of Melbourne libraries so their efforts should be appreciated by borrowers searching online.

Sex and Vanity has been classified as a romantic comedy and readers can find a list of 14 read-alikes on the library site.

But it has to be said that it’s difficult to imagine how anything could really compare to the audacity of this 2020 parody of Chinese/American culture by the author of Crazy Rich Asians.

Kevin Kwan is famous and a confident commentator who loves wealth, New York, fashion and labels of every kind, and every page is a who’s who of designers, boutiques and restaurants, with footnotes for the uninitiated.

The story takes a while to emerge through the constant patter and name-dropping but it is there, and eventually brings the book alive.

Lucie, the young confused protagonist, is part Chinese and part US “old money” and she has to make a choice between playing the status game and herself.

She has an inexplicable attraction to George, a mix of Hong Kong Chinese and Aussie, who wears Speedos, is relatively modest and surfs.

Where will Lucie’s heart lead her when she also hooks a “billenial”, short for millennial billionaire, with flamboyant tastes?

Kwan has a lot of fun with privilege, leaving nothing up to the reader’s imagination.

In fact, this could be the major selling point of this study of “hapa” (mixed Asian and other racial heritage) culture – the author’s confidence when it comes to flinging around names.

He quite knowingly “rips off” scenes from E.M. Forster and enjoys the appropriation, and this literary reference segues into an analysis of how the rich flaunt while gallivanting overseas for lavish weddings.

The plot is great, involving a number of drones recording secret liaisons, and the Chinese mums witty, conniving and supportive compared to their stuck-up “old money” in-laws.

“I’m sorry I raised my children too white. They don’t know how to appreciate authentic Chinese food,” says Lucie’s mum when her brother refuses to try stinky tofu.

“Hiyah, you’re telling me. George refused to eat chicken feet,” replies George’s Hong Kong mum.

The Chinese mums sort out the situation of the romance and the pressure on their kids to conform to Instagram personas.

This is Kwan’s fourth novel and he does a good job of uncovering the importance of self-parody in hapa culture.

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