donít know about you, but I gobbled all three volumes
of Kevin Kwanís gossipy, name-droppy and wickedly
funny "Crazy Rich Asians" trilogy as if they
were popcorn. (Really fresh, still-warm popcorn, with
that good European butter Ö but I digress.) The
novels, set among three intergenerational and ultrarich
Chinese families and peppered with hilarious explanatory
footnotes, are set mostly in Singapore but flit easily
from one glamorous world city to another, with Young
family heir Nick and his American-born girlfriend (later
wife) Rachel as our levelheaded tour guides.
final volume in the trilogy, " Rich People
Problems" (Doubleday, 416 pp., $26.95), is here ó
to the chagrin of those who arenít quite ready to say
goodbye to Nick and Rachel and their irresistible world.
(The previous books were "Crazy Rich Asians,"
published in 2013, and "China Rich Girlfriend"
in 2015.) Kwan, born and raised in Singapore but now
settled in New York, answered some questions via email
for me last week ó about the novel, the upcoming movie
of "Crazy Rich Asians" (which began filming
last month), and his many inspirations, including
Did you always conceive this as a trilogy? (Meaning, any
chance of another book in the series?)
From the very beginning, even before I started writing
the first book, I knew I wanted to make it a trilogy. I
knew it would take three books to get the full story
out, and though I really need a break from the Young
clan right now, nothing is ever definitive and if
readers truly want more, they just might get it!
had the entire story arc of the three books more or less
in my head. I knew where I wanted to go with each of the
characters, although the journey itself was a meandering
one. As I began to write, my characters really would
speak to me and take me on rides filled with unexpected
twists and turns.
Your footnotes are delightful. How did they evolve?
When I began the first book, I realized that there were
just so many things that needed translating or further
explanation. But I felt it would interrupt the flow to
put them into the text, so I tried experimenting with
footnotes. In the beginning, the footnotes were very
formal and a bit dry. So I started trying to make them
more humorous, and the idea really took shape. I should
note that the voice of the footnotes isnít me ó itís
actually all done in [Nickís cousin] Oliverís voice!
I love big family sagas, complete with family trees to
keep everyone straight. Do you have any favorites in
that genre that inspired you?
I love Anthony Trollopeís "Dr. Thorne" and
his "Palliser Series," Evelyn Waughís "Brideshead
Revisited," as well as everything Jane Austen has
written. I have to admit that being a child of the í80s,
I was also inspired by family sagas on TV:
"Dynasty," "Falcon Crest" and more
recently "Downton Abbey" and "Game of
Whatís been the reaction from your family in
Each of my characters is inspired by many people ó
sometimes a mix of family, friends and people Iíve
just observed over the years. My family in Singapore is
so big and sprawling; the reactions have been so
diverse. Some love my books, some are completely baffled
by them, and one relative actually flipped through my
second novel, "China Rich Girlfriend," as if
it was a rotting piece of fish and said, "Kevin, I
canít think of anyone in Singapore who would want to
Youíve spoken of doing a lot of nonfiction reading as
research. Can you share a few titles?
Sure! "Forgotten Armies: Britainís Asia Empire
and the War With Japan," "The Soong
Dynasty" by Sterling Seagrave, "Empress
Dowager Cixi" by Jung Chang, and "The Dragon
Behind the Glass" by Emily Voigt, just to name a
The books are full of amazing details of life among the
Singapore ultrarich ó such as plastic surgery for pet
fish. Do you have a favorite from the books? Are any of
them made up?
I love all my crazy details, so itís really hard to
play favorites. One detail I do love in the new book
concerns the two Thai aristocrats that married into
Catherine Young Aakaraís family (Nickís aunt who
lives in Thailand): Itís mentioned that the two ladies
only eat shellfish, and this was directly inspired by a
story a chef once told me about having to prepare an
entire meal for a Thai princess whose entire diet
consisted of shellfish. NOTHING is made up In my books!
I would like to be Astrid [Nickís glamorous,
preternaturally poised cousin]. Thatís not really a
question, just a statement.
Not only do I get [that] all the time, I get sent poetry
and artwork inspired by Astrid from her fans, and Iím
told that quite a few women in Singapore and Hong Kong
have gone around claiming to be the inspiration for
Tell me about the movie! (Fun fact: Screenwriter Pete
Chiarelli is a Tacoma native and a University of
I did everything I could to be helpful to Pete as he
worked on the script. I think heís done a fabulous
been involved in almost every aspect of the film from
the very beginning ó I first worked with the producers
Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson of Color Force to select
the screenwriter that would adapt the book into a
script, and then we focused on finding the perfect
director to make the film. After Jon M. Chu came on
board, we went into full casting mode and then very
quickly into production. Since then Iíve worked with
the costume designer Mary Vogt and the production
designer Nelson Coates, and itís all been so exciting.
I think very few authors have been as involved in the
film adaptation of their book as I have, and I feel very
lucky to have had this experience. Everyone involved is
so brilliant, and Iím thrilled by the way theyíre
bringing the book to life on screen.
This movie seems to be arriving at exactly the right
moment in the zeitgeist for Asian performers in
Hollywood. Do you think thereís extra pressure because
Certainly. There really seems to be a whole movement
behind this film and itís become a symbol of hope not
just for Asian performers, but for Asian communities all
over the world. I think everyone working on this film
ó from Jon to the actors to everyone on our incredible
crew ó feels that sense of excitement and expectation,
and itís really inspiring everyone to give that much
of themselves to the movie. I think audiences are going
to be crazy happy with the results!