I finished the year reading a couple of great books from 2013:

Book cover for How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin HamidBiting social commentary disguised as a self help book, ultimately, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is a love story. Hamid uses each chapter to address a prescribed step on the way to becoming filthy rich in rising Asia, as it tells the story of the main character achieving that particular step. The reader is moved through the protagonist’s life from boyhood and moving to the city (Step 1) to the end of his life (Step 12: have an exit strategy). So moving on so many levels, revealing the dismal hope of achieving a comfortable life for the majority of people living in Pakistan, it documents the hardscrabble rise to middle class while necessarily greasing the palms of corrupt officials amidst the ever present threat of disease and lack of hygiene. Despite the squalor and corruption, Hamid reveals what is absolutely transcendental and beautiful about human life. He is a writer who occupies a sparsely populated league.

The Two Hotel Francforts chronicles the two weeks in 1940 during which two couples, fleeing the occupation of France, spend in Lisbon awaiting a ship to take them to the United States. Book cover for The Two Hotel Francforts by David LeavittSoon the four are inseparable, spending every day together, although husbands and wives pair off for several hours each day. In this limbo, we find what has shaped the trajectory of their lives and marriages. Orphaned at a very young age, Iris so longs to hold onto her husband Eddie, that she endures his self-centered capriciousness and his unsavory demands of her. Passive Pete has spent his marriage trying to appease his spoiled, disagreeable wife, Julia, while Julia disdains his mediocrity. Julia harbors a secret that has defined their lives, and she lives in abject fear of discovery. The only innocent and unselfishly loved character is that of Daisy, the elderly terrier who belongs to Iris and Eddie. It’s because of Daisy that Iris was finally able establish a stable home rather than bouncing from hotel to hotel, as she and Eddie have done most of their lives. It’s because of Daisy that the couple chooses to go to the U.S. instead of Iris’s homeland, England. And Daisy foretells the utter severing of the relationships of the main characters. Part love story, part mystery, part reflection on the glue can bind couples together, this is a thoroughly enjoyable book set in a time when the world is on the brink of transformation.

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