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Great Beach Read: “China Rich Girlfriend”

A character guide to help you navigate this tricky game of thrones

08.05.15

If there’s anything more luxurious than a nap, it’s a beach read — a book to devour on your baking belly and sun-screened back, its chapters keeping time with your rotation schedule. A proper beach read should keep you entertained and eager, excited for the page turn and so engaged in its characters that without the book in hand, you find yourself wondering if everyone’s going to be okay.

In keeping with our recent theme: August Is Still Summer (So Stop Saying Otherwise), allow me to introduce the perfect book: China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan, author of Crazy Rich AsiansBecause a great beach read is nothing without its cast of truth seekers and trouble makers, however, perhaps I’m better off introducing the key players.

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Here’s who you need to know:

Rachel Chu

Who? NYU Economics professor from Northern California. Down to earth. Could care less about Instagram followers. Like Andy in The Devil Wears Prada before she was Andrea, she used to think Club Monaco was couture.

So who’s her favorite designer now? Erica Tanov. Because Rachel knows so little about fashion, she is of the lucky few whose taste is pure and based on nothing more than personal aesthetic. (Read: Prada’s “Car Collection” means nothing to her.)

Fashion moment even though Rachel would never use the word “moment” outside of its original intent: Her husband buys her this Fall 2013 couture outfit from Alexis Mabille.

How’d she get into this world? She married Nicholas Young (see below). They met while teaching at NYU.

Nicholas Young

Who: NYU History Professor, recently married to Rachel Chu after near-disaster: he kept a major family secret but it was only because he loved her!! (Cue groans, I know. But since Rachel forgives him, so do we.)

Ok, but what else — we’re all friends here: Fine. He comes from one of the wealthiest families in all of Asia/the world. Per the author, he’s “dashingly handsome.” He’s an only child and next in line to the kind of fortune so great that his winning the lotto would be like one of us finding a $5 bill in our pants and it making our week.

(But he would never say that out loud, hence book 1 disaster with Rachel where he was like: “Oops! Forgot to tell you I’m basically royalty! Hope that doesn’t freak you out!”)

Regarding that aforementioned line… It’s red and fine. Nick’s grandma Shang Su Yi is pissed at him for marrying Rachel (“an American commoner!”) and not someone from an equally notable, respected Asian family. They’re not on speaking terms. Though he’s kind of in danger of losing said fortune, and you can bet Su Yi’s receipts are kept on for passive aggressive measures, Nick’s still the favorite.

Shang Su Yi

Nick’s grandma seems intense. She is. She’s the Young Queen Bee, Ruler of Tyersall Park Estate. Wary of newcomers, tolerates zero bullshit. Goes radio silent on blood-related family members for disrespecting her. She’ll sting you — then stay alive.

Da fuq is Tyersall Park? Don’t curse in front of Grandma. It’s an estate smack in the middle of Singapore. It would literally be like saying, “Oh, I live in Central Park. In a mansion. Inside Central Park, because Central Park is my front and back lawn. No you can’t come though because it’s not open to the public. LOL.” Fun fact: it actually exists.

If I can’t walk my dog there, who cares? Well, all the cousins want it, besides Man of the People Nick — who’s currently on the will to inherit the Tyersall fortune but he seems to not GAF.

Astrid Leong Teo

So what’s her deal? She’s the granddaughter of Shang Su Yi and Nick’s cousin. She’s a double heiress who’s been wearing couture since she was 16 years old, but don’t let the early-2000’s version of the h-word throw you off: she’s the shit.

Sounds oddly low drama… She’d love you for saying that. She’s married to Michael Teo, the tech king of Asia who looks like a GQ model. (Insider visuals tip from Kevin Kwan: google Godfrey Gao.) Together, they have a son named Cassian. But here’s the thing: she may or may not still have feelings for her ex, Charlie Wu.

There’s the drama! But first, the fashion: She’s bffs with such designers as Azzedine Alaïa, Dries Van Noten and Undercover’s Jun Takahashi. She also has a museum-quality collection of vintage couture — especially Madame Gres, Balenciaga and Yves Saint Laurent from the 1960s and 1970s.

Best in-book-look straight from the runway: a black Yves Saint Laurent jumpsuit from his final couture collection.

Eddie Chang

Who: Cousin of Nick and Astrid, hungriest for the Tyersall throne.

Give me the dirt: I’ll give it to you clean, straight from the author’s mouth: “Eddie Cheng, who entered Hong Kong Tatler’s Best Dressed Hall of Fame when he was 21, is the ultimate dandy. His favorite accessory is an ascot or a cravat (he loves Etro for those), and he has a bespoke shoe fetish. Of course he loves patterned socks, but he especially loves William Abraham’s Vicuña Cable socks at $425 a pair.

Corinna Ko-Tung

Who? She’s Hong Kong old money who’s made a career as a private social-ladder climbing consultant. The things you do when you’re bored, man. (Besides shop for understated Armani suits, per her uniformed wardrobe.)

So who’s her current project: the former Kitty Pong…

Mrs. Bernard Tai

But I thought we were just talking about Kitty Pong.  We are. Prior to meeting Corinna Ko-Tung, she was Kitty Pong: Soap opera actress-slash-ex porn star. In book 1 she dates Alistair Cheng, Eddie Cheng’s brother.

What now: She wants to rebuild her image. To tell you any more would be giving too much away, but know that when her name is mentioned, drama follows, as does a train of feathers and sequins and glitter and all that is so-wrong-it’s-right with the crafts-meets-fashion world.

Araminta Lee and Colin Khoo

Why do I need to know them? Colin is Nick’s childhood best friend. Colin and Araminta’s wedding prompted Nick to bring Rachel to Singapore, thus exposing her to this crazy ass world she was in no way ready to digest. However, Araminta and Colin are super cool. They adopted Rachel into the family almost immediately.

Colette Bing

Who? She’s the daughter of the fourth richest man in China. And per author Kevin Kwan, she’s not just crazy rich — she’s “China Rich.” She’s also a top fashion blogger and gets papp’d more than Anna Dello Russo and Giovanna Battaglia in matching outfits at fashion week.

Oookay…where did she come from? She’s “casually dating” Carlton Bao, Beijing’s answer to Prince Harry circa his party years, who got in a major car accident and nearly died.

Carlton Bao

…He’s connected how? His mom, Bao Shaoyen, was introduced to Eleanor Young by Nick’s cousin Eddie Cheng (see above) at the beginning of the book. Bao Shaoyen is married to Bao Gaoliang, former governor of Jiangsu Province, currently a major high power politician in Beijing. When Carlton got in the accident, Eleanor Young connected the Bao family to the top surgeons in Hong Kong.

Eleanor Young

That’s nice of her, but so what? Who is she? She’s Nick Young’s mom. Hates that Nick is married to Rachel because it threatens his fortune. Like, hates.

So this connects Carlton back to Rachel somehow? Ah, I see you’ve finally caught on…

And if you’re a visual learner who doesn’t mind a few spoilers, see below:

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Get your copy of China Rich Girlfriend here and Crazy Rich Asians here. Follow author Kevin Kwan on Instagram and Twitter, and for more info on the fashion, check out the Crazy Rich Collection. 

Original cover artwork and illustrations by Alice Tate. View her online portfolio here, shop her artwork here and follow her on Facebook.

Infographic by Hannah Kellner

Still here? Great. Tell me what you’re beach-reading.

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