Who cares about a piece of jewelry? The dress you wear to a wedding? In his trilogy of novels about contemporary Asians, which began with 2013’s Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan makes these small things matter, not for their glitz but for what those choices reveal about our inner lives and histories. Like August Wilson, Kwan is that rare male writer who understands women. It’s no surprise that his books are best sellers, with a fervent female fan base. His stories are important for Asian men too. Asian men often grow up in patriarchal cultures. American men grow up in a culture that equates toughness with masculinity. Combine those two cultures, and it’s understandable why an Asian-American man might bemoan a depiction of being small or silly. But Kwan knows that the small, silly parts of being human are our softest spots. And that softness is where we find our deepest humanity: in the tender and sympathetic portrayal of Eddie’s desperate, buffoonish clamoring for his inheritance. Or in the contradiction of Astrid’s simultaneous joy and shame over a pair of earrings. Kwan doesn’t focus on making Asians cool; he focuses on making our stories whole. The bits we’re proud of, the bits we try to hide, the tremendous heart that beats underneath it all.
Wu stars on ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat and will appear in the upcoming film adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians