GOD IS A GAMER by RAVI SUBRAMANIAN

What a very clever and intriguing whodunnit this book is.  A financial thriller, involving banking (yes, indeed, banking of all things) and gaming and bitcoins and politics and death and love  – and the whole combo makes for a great read.

This is the second book by Mr. Subramanian that I have been asked to review, and one thing is patently clear  –  the writer has got himself a way better editor this time round.  When I reviewed “The Bankster” I commented on the poor editing that did Mr. Subramanians’s fine writing  no favours.

No such issues this time round.

So, the story.  I can’t tell you anthing about the ins and outs of the plot, now can I, since this is, after all, a story involving murder and crime on a massive scale, so any plot spoilers would be, well, just downright criminal.

Mumbai, Washington DC, New York, Goa –  the action shifts between these places, involving a cast of Indians and Americans.  The story unfolds in short crisply written chapters, as we explore worlds that were totally unknown to me before  – the worlds of gaming and of bitcoins.  “God is a Gamer” reveals to us the highest levels of finance and politics, top secret computing and the virtual bitcoin economy.  The story centres around high-level technology, but manages not to baffle the reader.  Take me, for example – I knew next to nothing about gaming and bitcoins –  and yet never felt excluded from the story.  Enough was explained to bring me up to speed, without the storyline being slowed down.  Good writing, if ever there was.

The gradual drawing together of all the different threads in this tangled, dangerous, intercontinental web – politics and romance and computing and terrorism and murder and the FBI and banking – is cleverly done.  But I can’t tell you how or why, or it would spoil a great story.

If I have one teensy weensy caveat, it is that the end seems rushed.  Throughout the book, the writer maintains a detailed pace, leading us slowly and carefully ever deeper and deeper into the dark heart of his story, and then all of a sudden, it’s over.  There’s a quick bit of mopping-up in the epilogue, telling us which characters went where and did what and where they ended up, but I felt a bit cheated.  I would much rather have had a longer read, and no quick wrapping up.

But there is one great twist, right at the end.  Really clever.

 

I certainly learned a lot from this novel, because of course I googled bitcoins and TOR and Satoshi Nakamoto.

And they all exist.

Which makes me wonder, of course, what else and who else also really exists outside the pages of this book…

 

Recommended.

 

Just published by Penguin, the paperback of “God is a Gamer” costs Rs299 (real money, not bitcoins).

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The Associate by JOHN GRISHAM

It’s been a few years since I read a John Grisham novel. Not by design, I hasten to add, but more by accident/many more book clubs books to read than I can decently keep up with (ooh, ugly, unwieldy sentence, that,  & ending with a preposition to boot…)
Anyway, away in the cool hills of Kashmir on holiday, I ran out of books, and there, on my host’s bookshelf, was a Grisham novel.
Perfect.
“The Associate” is every bit as gripping and fast-paced and intricately clever as its predecessors.

Hats off to Mr. Grisham for being able to craft so many gripping books out of the world of law. This book is well-written, a page turner (however cliched that might sound) and I was hooked until the very last page. A perfect legal whodunnit.
I can’t tell you much about the plot, as that would spoil everything, but suffice it to say that this story takes place in Manhattan, as opposed to the southern US as in many of his books. The murky world of big law firms and mega law suites is compellingly told. The numbing, grinding work ethos and pressure of the big corporate world is told in harrowing detail and the city of New York features in a starring role.
Amidst a cast of characters good bad and downright ugly, we have in Kyle McAvoy an eminently likeable hero. Slightly flawed, brainy, honest – we are gunning for him the whole way through this great read.

Classic John Grisham, and so thoroughly recommended.
Published in 2009 by Doubleday, the hardback (what a treat !) costs US$27.95

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Couldn’t be easier.

 

 

THE SUBMISSION by AMY WALDMAN

A book that makes you think, makes you evaluate, makes you unsure of your own perceived views is a rare and precious thing.

If you haven’t already read Amy Waldman’s utterly brilliant “The Submission”, then you have a serious intellectual treat in store.
The book documents the deliberations and then the resultant turmoil, when the winning (anonymous) design is chosen for a memorial for Ground Zero to commemorate 9/11.  Because the winning architect is a Muslim.

Mo Khan is American by birth, and education, and training, and intellect, and instinct.

He is only nominally a Muslim.

Articulate, clever, talented, low key, he is a likeable man who has won an immensely prestigious competition.
His design for a simple, elegant soothing garden was selected, anonymously, by a committee comprising art luminaries, city grandees and the fiercely committed Claire Burwell, a 9/11 widow and the representative of the families who were bereaved in the attack.

Claire loves the design and the concept of the garden, which she finds soothing and perfect, and she unflinchingly sticks to her principles, even when the identity of the architect is known and the furore starts.

For this is no ordinary civic archeological project and the pressure on the committee members is intense.  The pressure is, quite simply, to select another design.  One not submitted by a Muslim.

The pressure on everyone concerned with the project is extreme, from Claire still grieving and trying to help her young children heal, to the chairman of the selection committee to Mo himself.  Family and colleagues line up on either side of battle-lines that are drawn up.  Should he withdraw ? Should he change his design ? Should he continue, amidst the maelstrom of publicity and outrage and polarisation that engulfs him, his family, and then the city at large.

It is this angry, vicious polarisation of an emotionally scarred city that is so brilliantly portrayed.

Ignorance on one side vs hostility on the other.

Pain and outrage vs a determination to stand one’s ground.

There is hardly a moral conflict that isn’t evoked during the course of this powerful book.

Mo himself has to face up to the meaning of being a Muslim, of being an immigrant, of being American, but, well, not quite American in the dreadful aftermath of 9/11.  His journey of self-awareness is painful and traumatic.

We see a good, decent, likeable man buffeted by pressures that he is helpless to control.

You cannot read this book without being moved by the passion and argument, and by all the ancillary tragedies that result from that one huge tragedy.

“The Submission” makes you think about identity, and assimilation, and community, and influences, and cultural roots, and religion.

It is, quite simply, a wonderful, thought-provoking, fabulously well-written book.

 

Published by Heinemann, the paperback costs £11.99.

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DREAMING IN HINDI by Katherine Russell Rich

An Oprah-validated book, “Dreaming in Hindi” is a fascinating account of a middle-aged American’s woman’s foray not only into India and learning Hindi, but into living in small-town India, and in a joint family to boot.

Part auto-biography, part academic treatise on linguistics and neurology, full of humour and self-mockery, “Dreaming in Hindi” is a fascinating read.  The sort of book that makes this reviewer say, ruefully, “Now, why didn’t I think of that ?”

From New York, where she has survived cancer and being fired from her job, the author travels to India on a free-lance assignment.  Fascinated by the country, she decides to move to India for a year, to immerse herself in the Hindi that she had started to learn back in the USA.

Thus Katherine Rusell Rich –  a clever, intellectual but slightly world-weary New Yorker –  ends up in Udaipur, a pretty (but small)  town in the desert sate of Rajasthan.  On one level, her adventures with language and life, with India and her eccentric fellow language students pretty much follow the path of any classic memoir of living in India.  A good entertaining read, with huge dollops of indiscretion.  This reviewer, for one, would love to know more about Helaena and her Maharaja.

The writer is eager to learn and to adapt to India, and her portrayal of her new home is full of aching love and misgiving, of frustration and hilarity, and above all of deep affection for this new world she is exploring simultaneously on several levels.

What distinguishes this book from any common-or-garden romp through India, is the academic analysis that accompanies her hilarious sorties and inevitable linguistic gaffes.  The author consults neurobiologists, experts in linguistics, and researches the meaning and impact of second language learning, skilfully weaving it all into her narrative.

As we follow her progress through India and into the complexities of the Hindi language, we also learn the whys and hows of thinking in another language.

Make no mistake, this is not a light, fluffy read.  Parts of it are hilarious.  Some parts are slightly coy.  Much of it is intellectual.  It all adds up to a thought-provoking read.

Dreaming in Hindi is published by Tranquebar and sells in India for Rs 395.

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