Recent reads: Crazy Rich Asians and Without Reservations

steinbachkwan

One of the best things about being on holiday is probably having ample time to tackle that to-read list. And indulge in some light reading. Joyce, Hemingway and Proust can wait, right?

1. Crazy Rich Asians (Kevin Kwan)

Yesterday I started and finished Kevin Kwan’s popular debut novel Crazy Rich Asians. It provides a satirical glimpse (and my, what a glimpse!) into the lives of three ultra wealthy Chinese families. In this world, haute couture, chauffeured Rolls Royces, private jets (equipped with state-of-the-art yoga studios) and impromptu getaways to private and secluded islands are part of the everyday. However, beneath the opulent displays of wealth and tradition, we see a world of hypocrisy, competition and vanity.

While laden with stereotypes of those within the Chinese diaspora, Crazy Rich Asians breaks many of the western stereotypes of Asian men and women. None of the characters are sidekicks – they are leaders in their own world, and play by their own game.

I thought this was quite an interesting read. Think Downton Abbey meets Baz Luhrmann. I thought of Downton Abbey when I read of the aristocratic lifestyles of the upper echelon of Chinese society; a hierarchal society that is driven and shaped by tradition, romance, ambition and desire. Maintenance of the status quo is of utmost importance, but only possible with treachery, gossip and dishonesty. At the same time, Crazy Rich Asians is vividly flamboyant in style and content. Its dazzling, over-the-top descriptions of the characters’ lifestyles borders on the unrealistic and it has the glitziness and exploding fireworks (both metaphorically and literally) of Luhrmann’s films.

2. Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman (Alice Steinbach)

I finished reading Without Reservations a few days ago. It has been on the to-read list for a couple of months now, ever since I did some research into good travel fiction/memoirs. Travel fiction/memoir is easily one of my favourite genres – if you don’t have the opportunity to travel right now, the next best thing is to travel vicariously through someone’s writing, right?

Without Reservations is a travelogue of Alice, a divorced fifty-something journalist who spends a few months travelling solo around western Europe. Although she is very much an ‘independent’ woman in our understanding of the word – having always made her own choices and financed her own lifestyle, she chooses to embark on a journey to discover her independent identity – one that is not defined by her role, or the people and things around her.  Alice seeks answers in Paris, Oxford, Florence and Venice, and along the way, falls in love, befriends people of all walks of life, says ‘YES’ to new opportunities and experiences, and develops a deeper understanding of herself.

I really enjoyed her writing. Maybe it’s because of her background as a journalist, but I felt that even though she was writing about herself, her experiences, and her reflections, her voice never came across as too strong or too self-absorbed. We get a good dose of her own musings, but also some simply but beautifully written descriptions of her surroundings and the people she encounters. I think I will reread this in a few years!

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