I’m done reading Volume 3 of Tristram Shandy. For a couple of evenings last week, I also read Kevin Kwan’s China Rich Girlfriend as a chaser to Shandy Volume 2. It’s fun to alternate between a classic and a contemporary bestseller: the latter makes me feel like a speed-reader.
Kwan’s second book in a planned trilogy is a continuation of the high-flying adventures in Asia of Chinese-American ingenue Rachel Chu. Whereas his first book Crazy Rich Asians represented Singaporean excess, this sequel trains its eye on the outrageous fantasies of mainland China (and Hong Kong).
One writer has described Kwan as a modern-day Jane Austen “because he is writing about the same pride and prejudices that consumed Austen 200 years ago”- pride and prejudices based on class, wealth, and family relationships. Kwan’s books remind me of Honoré de Balzac’s Père Goriot because of these themes. In fact, he quotes Balzac at the beginning of China Rich Girlfriend Part 3:
Behind every fortune lies a great crime.
Both Lawrence Sterne and Kevin Kwan intersperse their narratives with different kinds of texts that aren’t usually regarded as literary, using a fragmenting technique that I associate with postmodernism. Thus far, from Volumes 1 to 3 of Tristram Shandy, Sterne has inserted a convoluted legal document (the marriage settlement of Tristram’s parents), a Christian sermon on conscience, and a Catholic excommunication document. In China Rich Girlfriend, Kwan uses a cornucopia of texts to advance the plot: newspaper reports, a CNN report, email, text messages, voicemail, society pages, instant messages, a Cyndi Lauper song, a social impact (image) assessment, thought bubbles, GChat, blog posts, diary entries, a “Father of the Year” magazine article and notes.
Since I’m feeling “umay” or sated after a week of exposure to brand names, consumerism, and greed, my next chaser is a Filipino 80s novel that looks social realist: Andres Cristobal Cruz’s Ang Tundo Man May Langit Din (Even Tondo Has a Sky).