Person in a suit holds a wedding ring in a red box.

The author of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ on race, social satire and beach reads

After the blockbuster success of his novel “Crazy Rich Asians,” Kevin Kwan is back with a new summer read. The author joins host Krys Boyd to discuss his new novel – which again dives into themes of class, race, and money. It’s also a fun romp through the tropes of 19th Century marriage plots with true love on the line. The book is “Lies and Weddings.”

Kevin Kwan’s latest novel is a guilt-free pleasure  

By Sophia Anderson, Think Intern

Good in-flight entertainment can be hard to find, unless your airline’s mini-TV offers “Crazy Rich Asians,” as many do. Author Kevin Kwan is known for his novel “Crazy Rich Asians,” which inspired the deliriously romantic and effortlessly entertaining film by the same name. Both the original and adaptation, for which Kwan was the executive producer, are perfect vacation entertainment. 

Kwan said he’s not offended by readers labeling his books as “beach reads.” 

“I really write books for people to really escape to,” Kwan said. “That’s the whole point.” 

His latest novel, “Lies and Weddings,” fittingly begins on a Hawaiian beach. When Kwan joined host Krys Boyd in studio, he was dressed like he might have been about to embark on a beach vacation himself – a striped t-shirt, distressed jeans and sandals.  

If Kwan were standing amongst his characters from “Lies and Weddings,” Kwan would stick out like seriously underdressed thumb. Kwan grew up “crazy rich adjacent,” he told Boyd – the grandson of a prominent doctor in Singapore. His father moved Kwan’s family to Houston very abruptly when Kwan was 11, immediately transplanting him from a life where his nanny dressed him every morning to one where he learned to cook Betty Crocker cakes in order to feed himself.  

The family spotlighted in “Lies and Weddings,” are like Kwan’s family on designer steroids. The Greshamsburys are a formerly rich British-Chinese noble Kwan’s novel headed by Lady Arabella Gresham who is desperately attempting to marry her dashing son Rufus off to the highest bidder. As the family fortune wanes, Rufus rejects heiress after heiress in favor of his intelligent and lovely, but hopelessly middle-class, childhood best friend. 

“I have a soft spot for all my characters and I think I always say I don’t have any villains,” Kwan said. “There might be people behaving badly … but at the end of the day, I’m hoping to really create a multi-dimensional portrait of these people.” 

Kwan said he drew inspiration from his evolving understanding of status as a child. While the old-money Singaporean environment he grew up in stood in stark contrast to the Texan suburbs where he spent his teen years, Kwan found that every society has class signifiers.  

“I went from Singapore to just complete middle class, normal suburban life,” Kwan said. “And that to me was exotic. And it took me a while to understand what was happening, that within this world you’ve got its own hierarchy.” 

Kwan quickly lost his posh British accent in favor of a slight southern drawl, which he can still alternate between depending on the setting. His books explore not just the stress of maintaining wealth and a pristine image, but the added strain of assimilating into a British aristocracy as an Asian family.  

Dr. Eden Tong, the loveable if slightly cliche girl-next-door character, finds herself repeatedly mistaken for hotel staff while attending the royal wedding of the year because her skin tone is a closer match to the Hawaiian natives than South African royalty.  

Hong Kong born Lady Arabella is known for her flawless British English, a trait inspired by Kwan’s aunt, who Kwan said was proclaimed the perfect English speaker for her “beautiful Merchant Ivory British accent.” 

While Kwan introduces serious themes into his novels, they are still best categorized as romcoms.  

“I think my first goal is to entertain and amuse and to write books, write books that people can enjoy on a summer holiday,” Kwan said. “I think that looking at people in truly desperate situations, you have to be in a specific mindset to want to read that. And I believe there is an importance and a place for those books. I just don’t believe I’m qualified to write that.”