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Book Nook - 17-09-2018

Monday, September 17, 2018
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to adc.booknook@gmail.com

Marriage, Materialism And Madness
Kevin Kwan’s wicked romcom, Crazy Rich Asians, came out on 2013, but the movie is out this year and making waves for being the first in over two decades with a completely Asian cast. So, now’s a good time to read the book.

Rachel Chu is an innocent in the world of the super rich Chinese community of Singapore. She has been raised in the US by a single mother, and studied her way up to becoming an economics professor. She starts dating fellow professor, the handsome Nicholas ‘Nick’ Young, without having any clue that he belong to one of those crazy rich Asian families. The kind of people who live in palatial homes served hand and foot by armies of silent domestic help, belong to exclusive clubs, travel by private jets, wear only designer outfits and jewellery and send their kids abroad to study. They also marry into similarly wealthy families; the old money Chinese looking down at the new rich.

When Nick invites Rachel for a summer vacation to Singapore, where he is to be best man at his friend Colin Khoo’s wedding to supermodel Araminta Lee, she has no idea what she is in for.  She does not know that the Khoo wedding is being treated as the event of the year by the Singapore press and the Chinese community. The first inkling of Nick’s double life comes when they travel in a luxurious private cabin, which he explains away as using up his frequent flier miles.

Nick plan to take her to Singapore is overheard by a Chinese woman at the next table in a restaurant, and sets off the gossip grapevine through social media. Rachel does not realise that her imminent arrival as the very eligible Nick’s girlfriend has set off mini landmines in his family and their social set. His mother Eleanor is so upset, that she decides to go off on spa weekend with her friends to avoid meeting Rachel before she has found out just who she is and which family she belongs to.  When it is revealed to the curious Singaporeans that Rachel is not a rich Taiwanese, but an ordinary Chinese-American, she is slotted as gold-digger and treated with disdain bordering on cruelty by the other fashionable young women and their mothers, who are hoping to snag Nick and be connected with the affluent and powerful Young clan.

She is, however, treated with kindness by Colin and Araminta, Nick’s cousin Astrid (whose marriage to ‘commoner’ Mike is going through a strain), Colin’s sister Sophie, and Rachel’s former college mate Peik Lin, whose nouveau riche family is not considered worthy of note by the condescending snobs.

Nick’s formidable grandmother Su Yi controls the family’s fortune and guards their privacy so fiercely that Tyersall Park, her colonial palace set on a huge estate in the heart of Singapore, does not show up on Google Maps. She is dead against Nick marrying a girl who does not belong to the right family.

The love story between Nick stays at the centre, but around them the moneyed folk in their circle splurge on real estate, gadgets, planes, yachts, and clothes worth millions—probably keeping the couture houses of France and Italy afloat. Their lives are grand beyond imagination, and Kwan occasionally tips into satire when he writes about Nick’s friend throwing a vulgar bachelor party for Colin, and Araminta taking her friends on a lavish bachelorette weekend that tests Rachel’s equanimity to breaking point.

The book opens with a hilarious episode in which a racist hotel manager refuses to let Eleanor Young and her group into the suite they booked at a posh hotel;  her brother-in-law Harry Leong, simply buys the property right off from the aristocratic English owner. Needless to say the nasty manager is fired on the spot. Kwan keeps up the humour through the book, as well as a social commentary that must have opened the eyes of the world to the materialistic—and perhaps spiritually empty-- lives led by the Chinese in Singapore.

The book was such a success (so is the movie) that Kwan wrote two sequels, China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems.

Crazy Rich Asians
By Kevin Kwan
Publisher: Doubleday
Pages: 416

 

Excerpt of Crazy Rich Asians
As Peik Lin's car approached the porte cochere of Tyersall Park, Nicholas Young bounded down the front steps. "I was worried you'd gotten lost," he said, opening the car door.

"We did get a bit lost, actually," Rachel replied.

"For some strange reason, your grandmother's house didn't show up on my GPS," said Peik Lin, who prided herself on knowing every street in Singapore.

Rachel got out of the car and stared up at the majestic facade before her. "Am I really late?"

"No, it's OK," Nick said. "Peik Lin—thanks so much for giving Rachel a lift."

"Of course," Peik Lin murmured, rather stunned by her surroundings. She paused, thinking Nick might invite her in for a drink, but no invitation seemed forthcoming. Finally she said as nonchalantly as possible, "This is quite a place—is it your grandmother's?"

"Yes," Nick replied.

"Has she lived here a long time?" Peik Lin asked, craning to get a better look.

"Since she was a young girl."

What Peik Lin really wanted to ask was, Who on earth is your grandmother?"Well, you two have a great time," she said instead, winking at Rachel and mouthing Call me later. Rachel gave her friend a quick smile.

Nick turned to Rachel, looking a little sheepish. "I hope it's OK . . . but it's not just the family. My grandmother decided to have a small party at the last minute because her tan hua flowers are going to bloom tonight."

"She's throwing a party because some flowers are in bloom?" Rachel asked.

"Well, these are very rare. They bloom only about once every decade, and only at night. The whole thing lasts just a few hours. It's quite something."

"Sounds cool, but now I'm feeling really underdressed," Rachel said, eyeing the fleet of limousines lining the driveway. She was wearing a sleeveless, chocolate-colored linen dress, a pair of low-heeled sandals, and the only expensive piece of jewelry she owned—Mikimoto pearl studs that her mother had given her when she got her doctorate.

"Not at all—you look absolutely perfect," Nick replied.

As they entered the house, Rachel was transfixed for a few moments by the intricate black, blue, and coral mosaic tile pattern on the floor of what appeared to be a large foyer. Then, to her amazement, a tall, spindly Indian man standing next to a table clustered with pots of enormous white-and-purple phalaenopsis orchids bowed ceremoniously to her.

"Everyone's upstairs in the living room," Nick said, leading Rachel toward a carved-stone staircase. She saw something out of the corner of her eye and let out a quick gasp. By the side of the staircase lurked a huge tiger, mouth open in a ferocious growl.

"It looks so real!" Rachel said.

"It was real," Nick said. "It's a native Singaporean tiger. They used to roam this area. My great-grandfather shot it when it ran into the house and hid under the billiard table, or so the story goes."

"Poor guy," Rachel said.

"It used to scare the hell out of me when I was little. I never dared go near the foyer at night," Nick said.

"You grew up here?" Rachel asked in surprise.

"Yes, until I was about seven."

"You never told me you lived in a palace."

"This isn't a palace. It's just a big house."

"Nick, where I come from, this is a palace," Rachel said, gazing up at the cast-iron-and-glass cupola soaring above them. The murmur of party chatter and piano keys wafted down. As they entered the drawing room, Rachel felt momentarily giddy, as if she had been transported back in time to the grand lounge of a twenties ocean liner, en route from Venice to Istanbul, perhaps.The "living room," as Nick so modestly called it, was a gallery that ran along the entire northern end of the house, with Art Deco divans, wicker club chairs, and ottomans casually grouped into intimate seating areas. A row of tall plantation doors opened onto a veranda, inviting a view of verdant parklands and the scent of night-blooming jasmine into the room. At the far end of the room a young man in a tuxedo played on a Bösendorfer grand piano.

Rachel longed to study every exquisite detail: the exotic potted palms in massive Qianlong dragon jardinieres, the lacquered teak surfaces, the silver-and-lapis-lazuli-filigreed walls. The glamorous guests, she couldn't help noticing, appeared completely at ease lounging on the shantung silk ottomans while a retinue of white-gloved servants circulated with trays of cocktails.

 

SHORT TAKES
Karachi-based author journalist Taha Kehar’s debut novel, Typically Tanya, is about a young woman looking for real romance. According to the summary, “Tanya’s got a pretty good life, working for Karachi’s Daily Image newspaper and smoking-drinking-flirting her way through minor romantic escapades. Sure, there are a few tiny problems. But, so far, she’s been handling them well enough—in fact, she’s even managed to neatly sidestep the rishtaas her mother’s match-making friends keep bringing in. Arranged marriage? No, thank you. She’d like some knee-shaking love instead. But Tanya’s carefree life quickly gets complicated after her (erstwhile) best friend Sonia’s shaadi is called off when the groom runs away with another woman—the same groom Tanya once got intimate with on a drunken night she would rather not remember. Now it’s up to Tanya to set things right. Will Tanya manage to save Sonia’s wedding? And will she finally find true love?”

Typically Tanya
By Taha Kehar
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Pages: 252


 
Sanjay Manaktala is an IT-executive turned stand-up comedian. The synopsis of his book My Beta Does Computer Things, reads, “Father: ‘Beta, what do you want to be when you grow up? Wonder Woman? Spiderman? Superman?’

“Child: ‘Papa, when I grow up I want to be a senior database administrator at Wipro.’

“If you’ve picked up this book, you and I are probably pretty darn similar. We grew up in humble circumstances, listened to our parents and the society, graduated and joined the IT industry. So, why read a book that’s going to explain an industry you might already be a part of?  Well, to be quite frank, to work smarter and not harder. To make sure you know what you’re getting into and what lies ahead. You want to make money and travel the world.  You want to date and enjoy your twenties and thirties.
Your work does not need your youth as a sacrificial offering. My goal here is to get you to realize that. Corporations can suck but they can also be awesome. Many of us make money. Many of us enjoy our lives. Few do both. Let’s try and join the latter, shall we?”

My Beta Does Computer Things
By Sanjay Manaktala
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 182 India

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