ARUN RATH, HOST:
In his novel "Crazy Rich Asians," Kevin Kwan introduced us to the new Asian jet set - the elite elite - who live in a world of opulence so extreme it's ridiculous. The book became an international best-seller, and there's a movie in the works. Now, those crazy rich Asians are back in Kwan's new novel, "China Rich Girlfriend." It reflects the ascendance of an even newer elite, the product of the booming economy of mainland China, a fresh crop of billionaires Kwan calls the China Rich.
KEVIN KWAN: This is the very new money that's sort of flowed out of China in the past 10 years I would say - you know, people making overnight fortunes, billions of dollars.
RATH: And you're talking about people that before the billions of dollars really were coming from pretty modest backgrounds.
KWAN: For the most part, yeah. I mean, you know, you have families that were, you know, farmers. You have families that were factory workers, you know, but they were all sort of card-carrying members of the Communist Party and they sort of were elevated over the years, you know, as the party sort of rose to power.
RATH: Now, the characters that we have in "China Rich Girlfriend" - you introduced many of these characters in "Crazy Rich Asians." And there are a lot of characters and plot points. But I was hoping you could give us a sketch of Nick and Rachel - the young couple, their backgrounds and what's complicated about their relationship.
KWAN: Well, Nick is the descendant of one of the most powerful families in Asia and, you know, he's a very pedigreed, well-bred person that's sort of lived this sort of secret life in New York where he's a college professor. And he falls in love with a lovely American-born Chinese girl named Rachel Chu and decides to take her to Singapore to attend a family wedding and to meet his family. And she has no idea what she's getting into. You know, she sort of arrives and discovers that he lives in a place like Downton Abbey.
RATH: There's a scene early on in the book where, you know, when Nick is talking about how he's willing to give up everything for Rachel. He has a scene with his aunt, and she's warning him he doesn't really realize what he's giving you. Can you explain what she's talking about?
KWAN: Yeah, I mean, this is actually one of the - my favorite chapters in the book. It was really fun to write. You know, she's actually an old family friend. And she's trying to just, you know, sort of really explain the true repercussions of what would happen if he married Rachel and if he gave up his share of the family fortune - not just the money part, but I think the doors were always open to him his entire life - the doors that he'd never really were aware existed will be shut, you know? Club memberships, being invited to family occasions and how he's treated in Singapore and throughout Asia, you know, without the backing of his family and without this huge fortune and this huge property behind him - because, you know, in Asia face is till so important.
RATH: And apparently blood lines are as important as ever.
KWAN: Especially to the old-money families because I think that's really what they have to go with these days, you know, as all these new fortunes are encroaching. They have to retreat into this much-snobbish, you know, very snobbish, elite world where bloodlines and who you're married to and how many generations your family's been wealthy - you know, these new levels of snobbery really come into play in the new Asia.
RATH: From what I've read, Kevin, some of these character are based on real people. I've seen people identify, well, this is actually this heiress, this is actually this actress. How much of this was inspired by real people or by the headlines?
KWAN: I would say probably 150 percent.
KWAN: You know, look - I've always said I see all this through direct observation, you know? They're inspired by what I read on the news, by people I meet, by my travels in Asia. And you couldn't make this stuff up - the outrageousness, the spending, the drama, the scandals. It's all ripe for parity.
RATH: What are they buying? I mean, I can't even get my head - wrap my head around spending that many millions of dollars in a weekend or a day. How do they do it?
KWAN: Well, if you consider that the average, you know, Paris designer dress is, you know, anywhere in the range of $25,000 up, you know, and then they go on these sprees and they buy, you know, whole new wardrobes, that adds up pretty quickly, you know? But from outfits to jewels to shoes, you name it, to exotic sports cars, you know - you have the sort of the young generation of playboys running around Europe buying up Porsche and Ferraris and things like that and shipping them back to China. So, you know, there are many ways they are spending their filthy lucre.
RATH: You know, there was a critique of "Crazy Rich Asians" that appeared in The Guardian - basically that - saying that you'd replaced one bad stereotype of Asians for another.
KWAN: (Laughter) I suppose you could say there's certain truth to that. But, you know, I think I'm hopefully opening up the range of stereotypes, so they're not just the old stereotypes.
RATH: Well, I mean, do you think that there are people that are reading these works un-ironically?
KWAN: I would sincerely hope not.
KWAN: You know, I think especially for Asians living outside of Asia - I've met so many Asian-Americans and Canadian-Asians, for example, who've really told me that this is the first time they've seen modern contemporary Asians portrayed in a non-stereotypical way. Seeing them in power positions, seeing them as attractive, multi-dimensional characters has been sort of, you know, a really great boost for them, so I take comfort in that.
RATH: Kevin Kwan's new novel, "China Rich Girlfriend," comes out on Tuesday. Kevin, thanks very much.
KWAN: Thank you so much.
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