Nearing the end of a long and storied life, “Ah Ma” Su Yi becomes ill, and it is apparent she does not have long to live. The extended family flocks to Tyersall Park, ostensibly to pay their respects, but in many cases to vie for part of the inheritance. Eddie Cheng in particular is scheming deviously to outmanoeuvre the still estranged Nick. Nick himself isn’t particularly interested in inheriting the house, but Rachel convinces him to return home and try to make peace with his grandmother.
The third and final instalment neatly ties up the plot threads, but still holds a few surprises. There are also some particularly hilarious scenes, with Eddie Cheng taking pride of place as the fool. A worthy end to a trilogy that made me smile and laugh.
Rachel and Nick, after having broken with Nick’s family, live happily in New York. But a luxury car accident in London involving the son of a prominent Mainland Chinese politician brings their Asian roots to the forefront again. It turns out that Rachel’s long-lost father is alive and well. In separate developments, Kitty Pong desperately wants to climb the social ladder of Hong Kong society.
While the story is not as focused in this second instalment, Mr. Kwan’s dry with is perhaps even sharper, with plenty of chuckles, and some laugh-out-loud funny scenes. The stakes are higher, but it feels like they are also somewhat more abstract.
Rachel Chu, a Chinese woman who grew up in America, and Nick Young, a Singaporean, are a few years into a relationship while teaching in New York. Nick’s best friend Colin is soon to tie the knot, so he asks Rachel to come to meet his family and tour Asia with him during the summer break. Little does Rachel realise that Nick’s family is one of an elite few, immensely rich, interconnected Singaporean clans. Clans who put family and bloodline above all. Rachel is about to step into a situation she is woefully unprepared for, and Nick seems completely oblivious despite warnings from his cousin.
The novel reads like a love letter to Singapore in some ways, describing in loving and often hilarious details the intricacies of societal ritual, schooling, food, and social events. Nick’s extended family and the network of family connections beyond are scheming, devious, and often plain mean. They commit unscrupulous and cold-hearted acts in the pursuit of longstanding ambitions and goals, plotting over decades to build and maintain their dynasties. Mr. Kwan’s dry wit serves the story exquisitely as it elevates characters with seemingly little connection to reality from mere punchlines into the sublimely tragicomic.
There is a darkness at the core of this story, as Rachel slowly realises that all the family goings-on that Nick sees as normal, are shockingly cruel to someone who, like her, is seen as lacking in the “bloodline” department. That being said, this is, at heart, a romantic comedy, with frequent hilarity and heartwarming moments.