By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
The Ballad of a Small Player
By Lawrence Osborne
Meet Doyle — or Lord Doyle, as he comes to be known among the casinos of Macau. Doyle’s not quite the English lord people believe he is. He’s actually a corrupt lawyer who embezzled millions from a wealthy elderly client and fled England once his deception was discovered.
Since his arrival in Macau, Doyle has spent his nights gambling. He spends his days sleeping off the previous night. He doesn’t care whether he wins or loses, since it’s not even his money to begin with, so why should it matter?
But one day, Doyle hits rock bottom and is unable to settle a tab. Coming to his rescue is Dao-Ming, a Chinese prostitute he had spent a night with previously. With Dao-Ming, he feels he forms a connection, something he has not done since his arrival in Macau. For a brief period, she saves him from himself and his gambling addiction. But when he wakes up one morning to find her gone, he returns to the casinos. And while his obsession with gambling is overpowering, Doyle also finds himself wondering what had happened to Dao-Ming.
In Dao-Ming, we find a strong woman who knows her own mind. She may be a prostitute, but she has her own set of beliefs and has no problem letting people know how she feels and what she’s thinking.
Her personality and mysterious ways will have readers rethinking their initial impressions of the seemingly innocent young woman.
With his unethical and criminal past, as well as his gambling addiction, Doyle, on the surface, is not exactly a likeable character. But he is a multifaceted character who is human and flawed. So while Doyle is less likely to take the moral high road, readers will root for him and feel for him as gambling overtakes him. His flaws remind us that nobody is perfect and we shouldn’t be so quick to judge others.
The Case of the Love Commandos
By Tarquin Hall
Simon & Schuster, 2013
Things are not going well for India’s most private investigator, Vish Puri. So far this month, he has failed to recover a cache of stolen jewels, his wallet has been stolen, and he has to count on his Mummy-ji to retrieve it — much to his chagrin, as mummies are not detectives — and he has been tasked with tracking down a young man named Ram Sunder, who has disappeared while trying to reunite with his girlfriend Tulsi Mishra, a girl of a higher caste than his own.
The young couple had enlisted the help of the Love Commandos, a group of volunteers working to help mixed-caste couples make it in a still heavily segregated Indian society. But the reunion — among other things — goes awry, and it’s up to Puri to figure out the culprit.
As usual, Hall brings us the adventures of Vish Puri with this latest installment, which is equal parts intrigue and hilarity.
While Puri may be a bit egotistical, big headed, and very set in his ways, he is also very lovable, as his heart is always in the right place. He has a very strong set of personal values that he sticks to. His interactions with and thoughts on his Mummy-ji are particularly entertaining. He loves and respects his mother, but also believes he knows best when it comes to detecting — even though Mummy-ji can definitely hold her own when it comes to sleuthing.
In this particular Vish Puri story, the argument of arranged marriages versus love-match marriages takes a front seat, as we see how these issues affect Ram and Tulsi. There is also a focus on India’s caste-based society, and readers can’t help but question whether the type of community you were born into really matters, or if it’s what you make of your situation.
Crazy Rich Asians
By Kevin Kwan
Anchor Books, 2013
Meeting your significant other’s family is a big deal. Traveling halfway around the world to do so is an even bigger deal. And for Rachel Chu, a 29-year-old college professor from New York, it turns into an even bigger deal when she arrives in Singapore to meet her boyfriend Nick Young’s family. Because it turns out that her boyfriend’s family is not just well off. They’re rich — and not even filthy rich. They’re crazy rich.
Learning that her boyfriend of two years, a fellow college professor working toward tenure, who lives in a modest New York apartment, actually grew up riding around in private planes and is one of Singapore’s most eligible bachelors. It is a lot for Rachel to handle. And if that weren’t enough, she has to deal with Nick’s mother, who hired a private investigator to dig up information on Rachel’s background, as well as catty rich girls who are out to steal her boyfriend and a nosy extended family that want to know everything about her. All of this makes Rachel wonder how well she really knows Nick, who seems to have been living a double life.
“Crazy Rich Asians” is exactly what the title implies. It’s a story about how the extremely wealthy “Overseas Chinese” live and all that goes with it, as they try to impress and outdo one another and marry off their adult children. Hilarity ensues from the very beginning, as we witness some of the most ludicrous excesses, such as purchasing an entire hotel after being snubbed by the manager.
But despite Nick’s family’s riches, Kwan shows us that even those who are “richer than God” have their issues and quirks. And if anything, their issues and quirks are magnified to a much larger scale.
This story will have you laughing at the characters’ behavior, but also feeling for them as they struggle with issues we can all relate to. Kwan has created characters we can identify with on a human level, if not a socioeconomic level. (end)
Samantha Pak can be reached at email@example.com.