Reviews provided by Syndetics
Kirkus Book Review
This Afghan-American author follows his debut (The Kite Runner, 2003) with a fine risk-taking novel about two victimized but courageous Afghan women. Mariam is a bastard. Her mother was a housekeeper for a rich businessman in Herat, Afghanistan, until he impregnated and banished her. Mariam's childhood ended abruptly when her mother hanged herself. Her father then married off the 15-year-old to Rasheed, a 40ish shoemaker in Kabul, hundreds of miles away. Rasheed is a deeply conventional man who insists that Mariam wear a burqa, though many women are going uncovered (it's 1974). Mariam lives in fear of him, especially after numerous miscarriages. In 1987, the story switches to a neighbor, nine-year-old Laila, her playmate Tariq and her parents. It's the eighth year of Soviet occupation--bad for the nation, but good for women, who are granted unprecedented freedoms. Kabul's true suffering begins in 1992. The Soviets have gone, and rival warlords are tearing the city apart. Before he leaves for Pakistan, Tariq and Laila make love; soon after, her parents are killed by a rocket. The two storylines merge when Rasheed and Mariam shelter the solitary Laila. Rasheed has his own agenda; the 14-year-old will become his second wife, over Mariam's objections, and give him an heir, but to his disgust Laila has a daughter, Aziza; in time, he'll realize Tariq is the father. The heart of the novel is the gradual bonding between the girl-mother and the much older woman. Rasheed grows increasingly hostile, even frenzied, after an escape by the women is foiled. Relief comes when Laila gives birth to a boy, but it's short-lived. The Taliban are in control; women must stay home; Rasheed loses his business; they have no food; Aziza is sent to an orphanage. The dramatic final section includes a murder and an execution. Despite all the pain and heartbreak, the novel is never depressing; Hosseini barrels through each grim development unflinchingly, seeking illumination. Another artistic triumph, and surefire bestseller, for this fearless writer. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
New York Times Book Review
ALL good journalism is really travel writing. You prepare for a serious story the way a foreign correspondent would. You buy the maps, you learn the language, you hang out with the locals - not just the taxi drivers! - and then you write. That's what Robert Frank has done. He writes the Wealth Report column for The Wall Street Journal. (Who writes the Euchred by Capitalism column, I wonder?) In his new book, "Richistan," he posits the existence of a little-known country within our country. This "parallel country of the rich" was once just a village, he argues, but now it's an entire nation. The data bear Frank out. It was a huge deal when John D. Rockefeller became the country's first billionaire. Adjusted for inflation, he had $14 billion - less than the net worth of each of Sam Walton's five children today. There were an estimated 13 American billionaires in 1985. Now there are more than 1,000. In 2005, America minted 227,000 new financial millionaires, men and women with more than $1 million in investible assets. There are as many millionaires in North Carolina as there are in India. And so on. Frank argues that the rich are "financial foreigners" within their own country. They have their own health care system, staffed by "concierge doctors." They have their own travel network of timeshare (or private) jets and destination clubs. For her birthday, one 11-year-old "aristokid" pleads to fly commercial, "to ride on a big plane with other people. I want to see what an airport looks like on the inside." Like an anthropologist in the Amazon basin, Frank goes native. Except instead of a loincloth, he dons a white tuxedo to attend the International Red Cross Ball in Palm Beach, where he meets "Jackie Bradley, a buxom blonde squeezed into a jewel-encrusted Joy Cherry gown." Bradley is chatting up her new book, "The Bombshell Bible." "It's really more about my inner life," she says. "I'm hoping to use it to help other women like me." And Frank learns the lingo. Most Richistanis earn their citizenship through a "liquidity event," when someone buys out their company, rather than through inheritance. Hedge fundies prowl the nether regions of Manhattan for trendy paintings, or "noncorrelated assets." "Affluent" is Richistani code for "not really rich." According to Frank, you need about $10 million to be considered entry-level rich. Frank also plumbs Richistan's secret status codes. You might have thought that a Mercedes SLK or a Rolex were flash possessions. Wrong! In Richistan, they are reverse status symbols. The affluent drive Mercedes; the rich drive Maybachs. Franck Muller hardly advertises their bejeweled watches, which top out around $600,000, because they might attract the wrong kind of attention. Like yours. If you experience status anxiety, this book isn't for you. You can't avoid the conclusion that everyone is a lot richer than you are, whether he deserves to be or not. Here's a guy, Ed Bazinet, who got rich making little ceramic villages with light bulbs inside them. How hard can that be? On a more reassuring note, it's nice to learn that the rich suffer status anxiety, too. When Richistanis are asked how much money would make them feel secure, they inevitably choose a figure that is double their own net worth. Because so many newly enriched entrepreneurs hail from middle-class backgrounds, they hate being called rich. Chauffeurs, for instance, are out. Rolls-Royce says 95 per cent of its customers drive the cars themselves. Tim Blixseth, the founder of the Yellowstone Club and other gated hideaways, tells Frank: "I don't like most rich people. They can be arrogant." This from a man who owns two Shih Tzus named Learjet and G2. As in Gulf stream G2. If you were rich, you would get it. These aren't people who spend a lot of time looking in the mirror. Because if they did, they would see, as Frank does, the contradictions behind their middle-class protestations and high-profile philanthropic ventures on the one hand, and their ordering alligator-skin toilet seats for their private jets on the other. Frank is not a flashy writer, but he is smart enough to let the material come to him. When he sits down with the inflatable-pool-toy magnate Simon Fireman for lunch at the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fireman pulls "from his jacket pocket a two-page spreadsheet of all his charitable donations for over a decade, which he said I was free to publish." If "Richistan" is travel journalism, then ... do we want to go there? Not much. The people sound dreadful and not very happy, to boot. But consider the alternative. Frank gets a glimpse of the world outside when he attends Fort Lauderdale's International Boat Show, right after Hurricane Wilma has plowed through town. "Thousands of residents in the poorer sections of Fort Lauderdale (most of them black or Hispanic) were left homeless," Frank writes, "sweating through the tropical heat, without electricity." Meanwhile, at the Bahia Mar Marina, a chocolate fountain gurgled and the $20 million yachts and vendor pavilions were "perfectly chilled." Look out the window: It's Pooristan. Hmmm. I wonder who lives there. And will anyone be writing a book about them? For her birthday, one 'aristokid' asked to fly commercial, to 'see what an airport looks like from the inside.' Alex Beam is a columnist at The Boston Globe and the author, most recently, of "Gracefully Insane."