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Friday, July 17, 2020

Review: Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan

Sex and Vanity 
by Kevin Kwan

Publisher: Doubleday
Publish Date: July 14, 2020
Kindle Edition
336 Pages
Genres: Romance, Contemporary

The iconic author of the bestselling phenomenon Crazy Rich Asians returns with a glittering tale of love and longing as a young woman finds herself torn between two worlds–the WASP establishment of her father’s family and George Zao, a man she is desperately trying to avoid falling in love with.

On her very first morning on the jewel-like island of Capri, Lucie Churchill sets eyes on George Zao and she instantly can’t stand him. She can’t stand it when he gallantly offers to trade hotel rooms with her so that she can have the view of the Tyrrhenian Sea, she can’t stand that he knows more about Curzio Malaparte than she does, and she really can’t stand it when he kisses her in the darkness of the ancient ruins of a Roman villa and they are caught by her snobbish, disapproving cousin, Charlotte. “Your mother is Chinese so it’s no surprise you’d be attracted to someone like him,” Charlotte teases. Daughter of an American-born-Chinese mother and blue-blooded New York father, Lucie has always sublimated the Asian side of herself in favor of the white side, and she adamantly denies having feelings for George. But several years later, when George unexpectedly appears in East Hampton where Lucie is weekending with her new fiancé, Lucie finds herself drawn to George again. Soon, Lucy is spinning a web of deceit that involves her family, her fiancé, the co-op board of her Fifth Avenue apartment, and ultimately herself as she tries mightily to deny George entry into her world–and her heart. Moving between summer playgrounds of privilege, peppered with decadent food and extravagant fashion, Sex and Vanity is a truly modern love story, a daring homage to A Room with a View, and a brilliantly funny comedy of manners set between two cultures.

My Review:

In full transparency, I don't think Kwan is the author for me.  I liked CRA well enough, but in a rare turn of events, enjoyed the movie much more (that Mahjong scene will forever pierce my heart and was my absolutely favorite - if you know, you know).  I always like to give an author at least two books because realistically not all books by one author is going to probably work for you.  Then I found out the protagonist is biracial... and well, as a biracial Asian woman, I kinda had to see what the fuss was about.

Although this is a modern retelling/homage to A Room with a View - I had no frame of reference as I've never read that either. So I'm just doing really well here aren't I? 😃  We have the hate to love trope but ultimately this contemporary love story that spans the globe is a fun little romp into the life of Lucie, a half Chinese woman finding herself in a bit of a romantic predicament!

Kwan does an amazing job as always really making you feel like you're in these locations.  The lush, gorgeous scenery of Capri to the lavish lifestyles within Manhattan and the Hamptons.  But what worked for me best in these pages were the nuances of what Lucie had to deal with in being biracial.  

"'When you look in the mirror, do you feel more Asian or more Caucasian?'
'Well, I'm equal parts both...'
'But do you lean towards a particular side?  It's rather marvelous you could pass for either.'
Lucie gritted her teeth, finally angry.  'You know, I've never tried to pass for anything.  I feel like I'm just me.'

OMG Lucie, I FEEL YOU!  There are so many moments within this read that COMPLETELY resonated.  Not truly fitting in on either side.  Made fun of in America for being Asian and so excited to go to Korea where I would finally belong just to be made fun of there for being American.  It was a lose lose situation - though now as an adult, I find myself proud of ALL my sides and consider it a WIN WIN.  And Kwan makes a good point - these feelings of being pulled in two different ways does tend to make you racist against yourself.  I won't go into every situation or my own experiences that popped in my head as I was reading this.  Just know, I felt represented for once, even though I'm not Chinese.  

While the storyline itself was just ok for me and I find that I just don't like footnotes in fiction books that I read, I did have fun reading this.  And I certainly enjoyed Kwan's sense of humor - that drone scene had me ROLLING.  If you're a fan of the CRA series, then I think you'll enjoy this story.  And if you're biracial, you may find yourself nodding along with Lucie's experiences.


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