Five Star Billionaire: Tash Aw

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Five Malaysians in Shanghai.  Related in some ways but then very different in others.  The story is about how their lives intersect and take dramatic turns.  It is a fast paced book that covers a wide horizon of society.  What stands out is the difference in the lifestyles of characters who come from really diverse backgrounds.  However, that is also the weakest point of the book too – as many of the characters – Jerry, Justin and to an extent Phoebe – go through a similar crisis and face the same effects.  So there is the element of predictability and repetition.  The writing is good, not exceptional, and the repetition of thoughts and words gets a little tiresome.  I suppose I was expecting more; Tash Aw had been one of the biggest draws of Writers and Readers festival in Ubud, Bali.

Recommendation: Don’t bother.

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The Grapes of Wrath: John Steinbeck

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An all-time American classic that has been on my ‘to read’ list a long time.  The plight of poor Americans in the depression of 1930s.  The picture Steinbeck paints is stark, moving and sad.  Tom Joad and his family, and dozens like them, thousands actually, suffer through gut-busting, soul-sapping poverty that doesn’t seem to have a silver lining.  However, there are problems.  First, the book is a bit too ‘red’ – Steinbeck’s ideology, at times, seems to overpower his writing.  Second, the writing is a bit repetitive.  I know he is an acknowledged master and this may sound strange – but wasn’t too taken by the writing.  However, the scenes are strongly visual, the characters distinct and evolving and overall the book works.

Recommendation: Read – if you can ok with reading about a depressing time.