Kevin Kwan needs little introduction—he is famous around the world as the mind behind the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy, which gave readers an inside look at the lives of Asia’s wealthy and famous. Here, he discusses his new book, Sex and Vanity, and how it differs from his earlier novels.
Following the immense success of Crazy Rich Asians, did you need to step back and re-centre yourself to write a new book?
I really felt the need to do something totally different. The Crazy Rich Asians trilogy was a huge part of my life for eight years. I started writing it in 2009 and I was on this roller coaster until 2018, so it’s great to be able to slow down and think about a new project. Sex and Vanity is a book I have dreamt of writing for at least ten years and it’s all come together now in a very nice way. After that crazy tidal wave that was Crazy Rich Asians, I finally knew how to tell a story I wanted to tell.
What is the idea behind Sex & Vanity?
This is still set in a world of privilege but this time it’s not about the money, it’s not knocking you over the head with brand names and incredible set pieces. This is a much more personal journey; the journey of Lucie Churchill. She’s “hapa,” half-Chinese and half-white, so it’s about really discovering herself, her identity and being torn between two cultural backgrounds and two very different families.
Has the trilogy affected the way you write and the audience you write for?
It gave me license to let myself play and not to try too hard. I’m just trying to tell an entertaining story. I wanted to make people laugh, I wanted to bring people joy, and I wanted to pay tribute to one of my favourite books of all time, A Room with a View [by E M Forester].
Crazy Rich Asians was inspired by your own upbringing; has any aspect of your childhood made it into Sex & Vanity?
Yes. I grew up with a lot of half-Asian cousins in my family, so I was able to see, close up, the different struggles Asian people had. It’s all so distinctly personal and different. Different people would have completely different experiences being biracial and it all depended on who their parents were and what the parents valued and what the parents emphasise. Crazy Rich Asians was a love letter to Singapore and to growing up in Asia, [while] this book is my love letter to New York, where I lived for over two decades. This is the first book in a new trilogy inspired by great cities. The first book is in New York, the next in London and then the third in Paris.
Any advice to writers who may want to follow in your footsteps?
You have to write the truth that you know [because the] more authentic you can be to your experience, the more readers will respond.
Any message to your readers in Asia?
I really miss Asia: I miss Hong Kong, I miss Manila. I really wish I was there. I know everyone is going through a really tough time with the quarantine. My heart really goes out to everyone, but I know we Asians are resilient and we will all get through this and look forward to a better world.
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