Want to know where to go now? Why not use Kevin Kwan as your personal travel agent? He is, after all, one way to see the world.

Want to know where to go now? Why not use Kevin Kwan as your personal travel agent? He is, after all, one way to see the world.

The best-selling author behind the seminal Crazy Rich Asians trilogy – which made Singapore a thing, and trotted everywhere from Hong Kong to Paris to Sydney, along the way – and who then cast a gaze on Capri on his last novel, Sex and Vanity, is back with yet another world-spinning one called Lies and Weddings. This way to Hawaii? Just for starters, yeah.

Kevin Kwan, Lies and Weddings RAEN BADUA; PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE

Kevin Kwan, Lies and Weddings RAEN BADUA; PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE

Cheeky asides and spiky observations: it obviously has plenty of those, Kwan being Kwan. As usual, he reinvents the Victorian comedy of manners for the hashtag generation, all while letting us into a world of privilege that would even make Serena van der Woodsen gasp, in this a story that is familiar, but with a twist: the Greshambsurys of England are going broke, oh so broke, and only the right marriage will fix things. 

“21st century Bridgerton,” as Kwan told me during a recent stop in Toronto for a book tour – in that it is “boy meets girl…except now, the boy is desperate for the rich girl.” Enter: Rufus Leung Gresham, the strapping future Earl of Greshamsbury, who also just happens to be half-Chinese, his mother being the former Hong Kong supermodel Arabella Leung. Boom: a tale of manors, yachts and royal bloodlines, endless starchiture, haute cuisine and unbelievable excess. And, of course, no shortage of wanderlust. 

Here then, just some of the real-life places that the book travels to, with commentary from Kwan:

Hawaii: The “Big Island”

A trip to Kona solved a severe writer’s block that Kwan was experiencing when he started this most recent project, and it ended up being just the spark he needed. Indeed, the first of several weddings he paints in the book happens here, in the beginning chapters of the novel, and it involves – spoiler alert – a hand-built ice palace built into a volcano. Fire and ice, darling. “Fourteen micro-climates,” Kwan gushes about this particular patch of Hawaii – everything from picture-perfect beaches to real-deal rainforests to the Scottish Highlands-seeming wilds of Waimea Valley.

Kona Hawaii Aerial View. Photo by Julianna Arjes on Unsplash

In this section, he also takes us to Puukohola Heiau, a sunken temple built by King Kamehamha, an in-the-know hideaway spot that is Hale I’a Da Fish House (some the freshest fish in the world!) and, alas, also to Pololu Valley Lookout (a view that Rufus, in the book, declares as his favourite, in that it is the “first of seven valleys that were carved into the coastline when the Kohala volcano erupted eons ago.”)

Kowloon, Hong Kong

The Felix Restaurant and Bar, The Peninsula Hotel, Hong Kong

Courtesy of The Peninsula Hotel, Hong Kong

The prologue scene in Lies and Wedding – and one that echoes through the decades – is a high-octane one set in 1995 atop the famous Felix restaurant and bar, inside the Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon. Made up, that is, of “soaring floor-to-ceiling windows that framed the view of the Hong Kong skyline across Victoria Harbour.” In terms of high-octane glamour, as students of the restaurant-world know, there were few places more glamorous than Felix in the 1990s, and Kwan picked this spot very purposely. The glamour, after all, intersects with tragedy, as a man falls to his death from the balcony of Felix in this scene!

Designed by Philippe Starck – “it was the space that launched him globally,” Kwan told me – it continues to beguile to this day. It has aged very well, in other words. And is, in fact, where the author highly recommends doing its delicious Sunday buffet – “especially if someone else is paying.”

Marrakech, Morocco

Courtesy of Fondation Jardin Majorelle/Nicolas Matheus

Courtesy of Fondation Jardin Majorelle/Nicolas Matheus

“Marrakech taught me colour. Before Marrakech, everything was black.” A quote from the designer Yves Saint Laurent that adorns the Morocco section of the book (my favourite part, I have to admit, if only because I am a sucker for that 1960s jet-set vibe that is associated with Morocco). What brings Rufus and gang to this Northern African country is – surprise! – a wedding, and the trip gets them to rock the casbah, indeed.

There is a jaunt to the old souk (naturally), and the obligatory visit to Jardin Majorelle (gardens planted by the painter Jacques Majorelle over four decades, and now most famous for its restoration by Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge. The villa itself is painted in a distinctive blue known as Majorelle blue). Beautiful arches and lavish topiaries fill up more of these pages. Think, too: a scene set at Ksar Char-Bagh, a 14 century palace set among ancient palm groves.

When talking to Kwan, he mentioned the great Bill Willis, who gets a shout-out in his book. The legendary interior designer “pretty much invented Moroccan Style,” and is known for designing the homes there of such society figures as Paul Getty Jr and Marella Agnelli. 

Marfa, Texas

The most unexpected detour in Lies and Weddings? One that takes two of its characters to a small dot on US Route 90, mere miles from the Mexican border, and just 1.4 miles northwest of Valentine, Texas (population 109). To the so-called Prada Marfa, a site-specific Prada boutique replica that “looked like it had been teleported directly from Madison Avenue.“

USA, Texas, Marfa, Prada Sculpture.. Photo by Shelby Cohron on Unsplash

“It is incredible,“ Kwan says about this place of contrasts, which is given extra context in the book. Marfa, that is, became a thing when “Donald Judd came out here in the 1970s. Not much was happening, so he was able to buy up abandoned office buildings, the old supermarket, big chunks of land for cheap. He used all the spaces to make and display his art, and he invited his friends to create art installations here, as well….so now this remote little town six hours from the nearest city has become a mecca for artists and art aficionados and is one of the coolest places on the planet.“ 


The Ripley-esque Italian getaway, the floating city, is the last stop in the global tour that is Lies and Weddings and it certainly does not disappoint. Domes abound; so, too, palazzos. We hear about Ca’ Pesaro, a Baroque modern palace turned contemporary art museum, and see a glimpse of the Gritti Palace. “Everything’s prettier in Venice,“ muses someone at the cafe, Paolin, as they snack on a cornetto.

Courtesy of Hotel Metropole

Meanwhile: Harry’s Bar, inside Hotel Metropole is where two characters deign to meet towards the end of his novel, if only because this bar is where such illustrious guests such as Sigmund Freud and Marcel Proust chose to nurse their negronis back in the day. And is, in fact, where writer Thomas Mann wrote parts of his masterpiece, Death in Venice

Just the kind of wanderlusty tidbits we have been trained to expect from a Kevin Kwan novel…no?


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