Known for his masterpiece, Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan has had huge success in bringing Asian representation into pop culture and exposing the obstacles of being Asian in America, while providing luxurious and nearly outrageous accompanying settings and plotlines. In Sex and Vanity, Kwan has found a way to bring the stunning views of Capri Italy and wealthy side of New York into our imaginations.
Although not mixed myself, I was born in America to American-born parents and relate to Lucie Churchill, the protagonist of this romance novel. Born to a Chinese mother and a white father, she is forced to navigate her confusing identity amongst the chaos that is her life. Being born and raised in America with its assimilationist views while trying to understand and learn about your roots of another country is a confusing experience itself but when romance comes into the mix, there is seemingly no end to the dizziness.
Lucie meets a boy named George Zao at a wedding in Capri Italy but the story, of course, does not end there (as this is a romance novel). Years later, their paths cross, becoming entangled in cultural pressures and rich, complex memories of the past.
Although Lucie is part Chinese and born to an immigrant mother, Sex and Vanity is not focused on the fact that the family is Chinese. Similar to how Crazy Rich Asians had an all-Asian cast but whose plot seemed to normalize this unprecedented-in-Hollywood aspect of the film, this novel also focuses on a sort of satire that combines with young love. There are some remarks when Marian, Lucie’s mother, starts to become friends with George’s mother, Mrs. Zao; she finally starts to feel as though she is “reconnecting to [her] Chinese root.” This story, however, does not focus on cultural differences as much as I would expect it to.
Nonetheless, the satirical means in which Kwan displays the ways of the wealthy is like no other. While with a crazy rich, Bentley-driving icon named Cecil Pike, Lucie gets swept into the madness of the Aston-Martins-as-apology-gifts world (which apparently is a world that exists—imagine!). What this story lacks in the intricacies of being mixed-race and Chinese, is almost made up for in beauty, extravagance and fantasy.
Although Lucie may have trouble understanding how she feels about George throughout the novel, it isn’t difficult to fall in love with him as the reader. Kwan directs the story pretty much right where you want it to go; the trivial problems that Lucie endures and the relief that she almost immediately experiences is exactly what an emotionally vulnerable COVID world would want to read.
Sex and Vanity, two intensely complex aspects of humanity, are also quite simple and predictable in the end (if you catch my drift).