Good Fortune: A Novel
“C.K. Chau’s Good Fortune relocates Pride and Prejudice to New York’s Chinatown, reformulating the narrative as a tale of crazy rich Asians.”
A gaggle of sisters from a hard-luck family, struggling to get by. A rich interloper buying up the neighborhood and falling for oldest sister Jane. The interloper’s good friend Darcy, who gets entangled with Elizabeth, the outspoken, temperamental second sister. Misunderstandings and misconceptions and class resentment, love almost lost and eventually found . . .
Sound familiar? Those who know their Jane Austen will recognize all the story beats. But C.K. Chau’s Good Fortune relocates Pride and Prejudice to New York’s Chinatown, reformulating the narrative as a tale of crazy rich Asians. Instead of overseeing a dilapidated estate, Elizabeth and her family toil at a cheap takeout dive, when they’re not caretaking a local recreational center that caters to those who are less fortunate. Mr. Bingley is now Brendan, a hotshot angel investor, and the groveling Mr. Collins is now the head of a property management firm called Peony Plum. And instead of grand parties we get formal fundraisers, with confessions and moments of vulnerability taking place on New York’s rooftops instead of drawing rooms.
Good Fortune plays around a bit with the source material, most notably when it comes to Elizabeth’s younger sister Lydia, who comes to a happier end than she would have in the more restrictive, strait-laced Georgian England of Austen’s time. But otherwise, the twists and turns of the plot mirror Pride and Prejudice almost exactly, right down to the central love-hate affair between uptight Darcy and rebellious Elizabeth.
Chau adds spice through the Chinese American context: plenty of ai yas, frissons between nouveau-rich Asians and the homegrown American variety, and gossip exchanged over dim sum. As with any American-born Chinese kid who’s a liberal arts major, Elizabeth must endure parental disapproval, and Mr. Collins’ true character is revealed (in the book’s most hilarious moment) when he refuses to even offer to pay for dinner—one of the cardinal sins of Chinese etiquette.
Good Fortune starts with a bang, as we’re introduced to Elizabeth and her brood via a jocular overview that sets the scene in grand style while also poking fun at Asian American literary tropes. (Rather than fumble about with half-pidgin Chinese transliterations, Chau baldly states: “Let’s kill the italics and do as Jane and Elizabeth did at their joint elementary school parent-teacher conference—translate poorly.”) The rest of the narrative can’t quite maintain that level of invention, but Good Fortune has other pleasures to compensate. The characters’ rat-tat-tat repartee keeps the plot buzzing, with more overt displays of bitchery than you would find in 19th century England, and while Chau doesn’t have Austen’s felicitous turns of phrase (who does?), her snappy dialogue does most of the work, and does it well.
Even though money plays a large role in the story, Good Fortune is less concerned with conspicuous displays of wealth than the Crazy Rich Asians books. Chau’s approach is more casual, more glancing, and even as she updates the milieu (it’s amusing to contemplate Austen’s characters just hanging out and smoking weed like Elizabeth and her mates do here), she shares Austen’s affection for her oft-misguided protagonists. If anything, Chau proves that a declaration of love, whether it’s in a country manor or a grease-fried dive, carries the same weight, and the age-old push-pull between status and wealth translates across any culture.
Good Fortune succeeds at what it aims to be: a frothy concoction that tips its hat to Austen, even as it adds contemporary grace notes. If its conclusion is inevitable from the get-go, it at least gets there in diverting fashion, and it also proves that Pride and Prejudice remains nigh-indestructible as a story, no matter where you place it.