Perfecting the art of satire is no easy feat. Singaporean novelist Kevin Kwan, however, has managed to do so with aplomb. His Crazy Rich Asians trilogy turns the spotlight on affluent Asian families, uncovering—not only their wealth—but their quirks as well. His clever novel of manners, which largely focuses on the fictional Young family in Singapore, has titillated fans for its humor and honesty (98-percent of the book is based on real people, says Kwan). The last book in Kwan’s trilogy, Rich People Problems, landed on the New York Times bestseller list. In it, Kwan shifts to the story of the mysterious Young matriarch, whose untold history reveals many secrets within the family.
The Edition recently caught up with the author during his book tour in Cebu with National Book Store to talk about mapping out the story of multiple generations, the secret history of women in wartime, and the possibility of bringing to life a new Filipino character in his next book.
Hi, Kevin. This isn’t your first visit to the Philippines, and you’ve actually featured places and real Filipinos in your books. Have you met anyone on this trip that you’ve thought of bringing to life in another book?
There might be. I’ve met a lot of very inspiring people who are doing really cool thing, are super stylish, who I think would make great characters.
That’s great. I look forward to that. Given all the characters you have to keep up with in your stories, what’s your method to mapping it all out while you write?
I honestly don’t know how it happens. I don’t map things out; I don’t have an outline. I just write things out and it just comes out as this giant jumble. Then I edit it, but it happens on the page.
Did you know, even way back in Crazy Rich Asians, that Nick’s grandmother would have that secret backstory [in Rich People Problems]?
Absolutely. It’s happened to lots of people, the story of families getting into these huge wars after the matriarch or patriarch dies. It’s nothing new. [Regarding her heroic acts during the war], it’s also very common, I find. A lot of women in her generation, the ones that survive the war. They all have a fascinating story to tell of what happened to them and how they got through it. Everyday there were so many threats, living on that island, where the Japanese had taken over. There are so many unsung heroes and heroines, especially, because a lot of the men were imprisoned or killed. It was up to the women to really pull things through.
I think a lot of your fans are really excited about the movie. How was it like to cast such a diverse group of people?
It was such a fun process to see how it came together. You know, really, the mastermind was [director] Jon Chu. He knew exactly what he wanted for these characters. I think people are gonna be so impressed once they see this ensemble come together, because it became the perfect family. —Marga Buenaventura
Crazy Rich Asians, China Rich Girlfriend, and Rich People Problems are available at National Book Store.