“Like it or not, Asian countries are becoming more influential players in the world. It is a continent where the wealth generated today has no precedent in world history, “says Kevin Kwan, author of the novel” Madly Rich. “
The novel soon became an international sensation, and Time magazine included K. Kwan as one of the 100 most influential people. In the novel “Insanely Rich” with sophisticated humor, the author tells about the life of Asian cream: the hard-to-understand luxury, the incredible perks and the burdens that accompany them.
The eccentricity of the rich, reminiscent of Jane Austen's novels, mixes with today's Asian issues. K. Kwan gives an ironic look at the glittering life of an influential family: private jets, designer collections, and gold-glittered interiors. Money takes control of people, not people money. In all its beauty, both the most attractive and the darkest sides of the wealthy appear.
“Crazy Rich”: A humorous acquaintance with the world's richest. While reading, one might think where the world has gone, while others will look with a smile and interest at life that is hard to imagine, but not just in fairy tales. By the way, this novel has become a cinematic film, too, and the story is told more by K. Kwan.
In “Madly Rich,” you talk about materialism, constant competition and waste of wealthy Asians. Did you grow up in such an environment?
I really grew up in that world: an old, well-established family in Singapore. However, when you are a kid, do not know what people are doing. The uncle is the uncle. Dad's friend and he's just Dad's friend. Your playmates are just kids. It is not known if they are heirs of immense wealth. You live in a world of children. My parents were never people who used to emphasize the privileges or possessions I had, so I grew up happily without knowing about status.
I was eleven years old when I realized that my childhood was very different from most Singaporeans. After leaving Singapore and moving to the United States, I realized that I grew up in a completely different environment than many children. From an extremely privileged world, I entered a simple, middle-class suburb of Houston, Texas. My dad came up with a crazy social experiment. He predicted that his children would experience many of the normal lifestyles he had grown up in Australia. Very reluctantly, but my mom had to contribute to it. At the age of 50 she had to learn how to cook breakfast and use a vacuum cleaner.
I remember the first few months I couldn't come to terms with it. I came from a world where a lot of people rotate around the house doing absolutely anything they need. The thought of dishwashing or mowing grass was hard for me to grasp. Then an American cousin smiled at me and said, “You should be ashamed. You need to help your mom with housework. Do you at least know what she is experiencing? “
But did you finally adapt?
Absolutely. I was a grass cutting champion. During the summers, I even made a living by mowing it. Must adapt to the environment. Already accustomed to living in America, every time I remembered everyday life in Singapore, I thought, “Ha, everything was really weird.” That's every Sunday I had lunch with a princess from Thailand. I don't think many kids have had to experience anything like that. I told my friends these stories, and they obviously thought I was trying to fool them.
Do you think you were able to write these books just because you moved to the US and were able to break away from the lifestyle you describe?
Absolutely right. Only outside of that world can one look at it from another perspective. As a child and seeing the luxury around me, I thought it was normal, and money in general is a very abstract thing. I was carried by drivers everywhere, one of my friends had a bodyguard and the other a bar in the home pool. As I moved to Texas and fell out of that golden cage, I realized that I was growing up in a rather unusual environment, and over time, the narrative of the novel began to form in my head.
Every few years I went back to Asia and noticed my friends were getting richer and richer. And I was that poor cousin of America. “Woe, you live in a tiny house with no clerks, attend college and live in a student dormitory? Parents didn't buy you a home? ”I was hearing similar comments in that environment all the time. Every time he thought, “It's so funny.” But all those people aren't trying to be snobs. It just happens when you live at home with 20 clerks.
It seems that your book is not only attracted to readers because of the riches it describes. A novel entitled “Crazy Rich Europeans” is unlikely to attract the same interest.
Asia is currently experiencing a new golden age. The wealth generated there has no precedent in world history. I don't think China had at least one billionaire 10 years ago. And a decade later, Forbes the wealthy list included 122 billionaires from China. Old, wealthy families from Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia and the Philippines wonder where all the Chinese wealth came from so suddenly?
While news of the economic richness of the new rich from China or Asia has increased tremendously over the past few years, little is known about the wealthy overseas Chinese families who have long lived in Southeast Asia and beyond. Moreover, no one had ever told the story from the perspective of the people living in those large and closed families. I wanted to create a narrative that would go beyond stereotypes, talk about people in today's Asia, people with a burden of privilege and great wealth.
Do you think too much money can drive you crazy?
I think any extremes – whether it is too little money or too much – can lead people to some sort of craze. Unlimited wealth offers a tremendous opportunity to do good deeds and influence the world, but money can also mess up a person's mind and worldview.
I have spent a lot of time in the environment of rich people and have noticed that they are often the most unhappy, stressful people. Perhaps they are living in a luxury paradise enjoying the best that can be bought for money, but they cannot buy happiness.
You also talk about intergenerational differences in “Madly Rich.”
Yes, intergenerational differences are particularly pronounced in Chinese culture. According to Chinese tradition, the eldest son always stays with his family, even when he is an adult.
He is expected to take over the family business, take care of grandparents, parents. Children are also expected to give away part of their earnings to parents when they start working as a thank-you. Today, all these traditional expectations are turning upside down as Asia is increasingly influenced by Western culture. This is why I wanted to tell you about the hardships young people from traditional families have, but who no longer know their rules or just don't accept them anymore. As if to say, “Are you serious? Do you really expect me to marry anyone you choose for me? “
Nick, the protagonist of the book, was born in Singapore and grew up in a very traditional, privileged environment but was sent to school in the West. Thus, although his character is marked by features of Asian culture, his mindset is very Western. This gives rise to conflict, sometimes even comical situations involving the Nick generation.
Won't you be accused of showing disrespect to your culture by telling the stories of the rich with humor?
I had this idea as soon as I started writing the book … But I hope readers will look at this book positively, because I think it honors the extraordinarily rich culture of Asia. I do not mean material wealth, but the cultural life.
In the book, you describe weddings that turn into hard-to-understand, simply shameless displays of wealth: the Vienna Boys' Choir, Valentine's Fashion Home Decor, trips to the neighboring islands, Cirque du Soleil shows and more. Is this a wedding in Asia?
I have seen weddings that outperform what has been described. In fact, I had to simplify many stories! What is real is simply hard to believe. It is said that reality is sometimes strange than fiction, and when writing a novel, it is crucial that the story is compelling. It was much more common to simplify narrative events, reduce decadence, and excess than to add.
In some cases, I even had to delete some details because my editor said that no one would believe it. I assured you that it really happened, and she replied that readers would not accept my story because it doesn't seem realistic for people to spend so much money or do something so pompous. “
Thus, such parts were replaced.
Are the characters inspired by real personalities in the book?
Definitely so, no doubt. I know all the people who inspired the characters in the book very closely.
Of course, I changed enough details so that no one could be recognized.
How did you manage to make the novel relevant to both East and West?
We see so many cultural differences, but also so many similarities. Today, more and more cultures are coming into contact with each other. Is that bad? Can be.
There is too much uniformity: people choose the same brands, eat the same food, and dress the same. Where have the distinctive cultural aspects of every part of the world disappeared? I am happy that I grew up with the embedded Eastern values and cherish those strange, exotic, sometimes disturbing traits that are specific to Asian countries.
“Crazy Rich” became a bestseller and appeared on many people's favorite readings as soon as the book appeared. Why do you think readers became so interested in this novel?
I think there is a certain amount of versatility in this story that readers can identify with.
No matter what environment we grew up in, all of our families are a little crazy. People have always been attracted to stories of the eccentricities of the rich. From the Bible to Machiavelli, from Jane Austin to Anthony Trollop. So I think the secret to the success of this novel is the combination of a well-known story with current issues in which everyone is so interested in Asia. Particularly in the West, people want to know Asia better as it becomes one of the main engines of the world economy. Like it or not.
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