CRAZY RICH ASIANS by Kevin Kwan

Although I tell myself I really don’t care what other people think, secretly I was a little worried at quite how much I enjoyed “Crazy Rich Asians”.

So obviously I googled reviews of the book, & was relieved beyond measure when I read this comment in a 2013 review of the book in the New York Times:

Mr. Kwan knows how to deliver guilty pleasures. He keeps the repartee nicely outrageous, the excess wretched and the details wickedly delectable.”

Wickedly delectable.

Totally spot on.

This book is a light-hearted, un-judge-y romp through the lives and times and shopping binges of the crazily rich of Singapore.

There is delicious designer-name-dropping throughout the novel, and it rapidly becomes totally addictive to see who is buying what and wearing what.

The premise of the book is quite simple.

Rachel Chu, ethnically Chinese but brought up and educated in the US, falls in love with another academic like herself, handsome and charming and low-key Nick Young.

They live together in New York, and life is good.  Until Nick invites her to join him in his home, Singapore, for his best friend’s wedding, where he is best man.

I don’t think I’m spoiling the plot for you when I say that when she visits Singapore, Rachel is confronted with wealth and opulence on a scale she has never imagined (let’s face it, it’s all on a scale that not many of us have imagined).  Nick’s world, the world into which he was born, is that of the uber-rich and as a wealthy single man, he is considered way too valuable a catch to fall into the hands of this unknown, clearly not very wealthy ABC (American Born Chinese).

Plotting and scheming ensue, on a scale that would make old Machiavelli himself blush.

Nick is blisffully in love, and blissfully unaware of how much of a catch he is considered to be, and totally unaware of the lengths to which his family will go to put a spanner in the works.

The wedding that is the anchor-point of the novel is so grand and so opulent that you literally can’t stop turning the pages, to see just what excessive display of wealth will come next.

Quick aside: I live in India, where eye-wateringly expensive weddings take place.  Fortunes are spent on impressing everyone how wealthy you are, so the excesses of the Colin & Araminta wedding didn’t strike me as being in the realm of fiction.  I could even imagine some Indian mothers of the bride reading this novel and thinking “Ah, now I could do that for my daughter’s wedding…”

But I digress.

This is a jolly, happy read – though I did shed a tear at one point, I must confess.  The opulence and wealth and sheer bonkers-ness of the excesses of the idle rich are vicariously fun to read.  I mean, who doesn’t dream of climate controlled wardrobes, with different temperatures for the shoes and the furs?  And a camera in the mirror that takes a photo of you, and records what you’re wearing, thus ensuring you never repeat an outfit?

The city state of Singapore is depicted with great affection by Mr. Kwan, and the descriptions of the gardens of Nick’s ancestral home are lyrical and beautiful.

This is a fun read, showcasing the struggle for true love, and good vs evil.  And lots of fabulous frocks.

Enjoy this “wickedly delectable” novel.

And don’t even feel guilty about so doing for a moment.

Go on!

Order the book now.

You know you want to!

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

If you feel like ordering the book, after reading this review, simply click on the link below. 

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.

If after reading this review, you wish to buy the book (and it is a compelling read) then simply click on the link below.  Couldn’t be easier.

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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