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Read It Forward: Social comedy is a difficult genre. How do you use humor and satire effectively?
Kevin Kwan: Direct observation! It doesn’t hurt that the subject and milieu that I’m writing about lends itself so perfectly to satire. How can you take seriously a living room where there’s a sunken pool in the middle filled with baby sharks? Or women that take dressing up more seriously than an Olympic sport?
I was once at a pool party where this Chinese society matron arrived in head-to-toe Yves Saint Laurent. A velvet Le Smoking jacket, scarlet trousers with a crease so sharp you could cut your finger on it, this ginormous Queen Mother diamond brooch, and diamond chandelier earrings. It’s in the middle of the afternoon, everyone else is in shorts and t-shirts, and this woman is wearing an avalanche of diamonds, standing by the barbecue grill.
Being exposed to scenes like this, I almost feel like I have an unfair advantage. I also have the benefit of learning from some of my favorite writers – E.M. Forster, Edith Wharton, Julian Fellowes and of course Jane Austen – all of whom brilliantly deploy humor to depict the social intricacies and absurdities of their set.
RIF: Where did you draw your inspiration for powerful matriarchal characters?
KK: There’s an impression in the West that Asia is a male-dominated culture, but the opposite is often true. In my experience, the husbands may be the ones who go out and make the fortune, but they bring the money home and the wives end up controlling it. Home is the nexus of social life in Asia, and this is where the women have traditionally wielded their power. They rule the social scene, and they decide who gets in and who doesn’t. Growing up in Singapore, it seemed like I was always surrounded by these strong, amazing women, so there was no shortage of inspiration.
RIF: Was it difficult to balance the more serious aspects of this story with the humorous?
KK: In Asia it often seems that the extremes are amplified. People are either making millions by the minute, or the stock market is tanking. A couple is blissfully happy one day and launching a nuclear war against each other the next. Even though the book is staged like a jet-setting romp, I wanted to show both extremes while exploring some wrenching terrain and issues – rampant materialism, infidelity, religious hypocrisy – to name a few. But my hope is that by approaching these elements through comedy, adding a dash of lightness and absurdity, we could open these issues to further examination.
Continue reading Q&A with Kevin Kwan, author of Crazy Rich Asians, and learn about the “Crazy Rich Asian consumer” and Kwan’s years as a fashion student and spectator.
RIFers: What’s your favorite satirical novel? Tell us in a comment!
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