2020s. Crow Town. Jasmine Goo, an ambitious financial journalist in her thirties, is sent to the city undergoing geopolitical power shifts from NYC to take over the Southeast Asian post upon her predecessor Jim’s sudden death. She gradually works out Jim’s ‘real’ reason for being on the island, which is not of course the one for which his employers have put him, or her, there. She meets two men, both classical musicians, one of whom can offer her status and wealth while the other, her piano teacher, with whom she connects at the deepest level, is a lost soul – plucked from his Chinese background by ‘benefactors’ and treated largely as a figure of fun despite his musical genius. She gets caught up in local political machinations, and comes to a moment of decision: either she gives up the map for a WWII gold cache in a forest, or watches her beloved teacher wither from a dreadful hand injury. In trying to work out what is going on and help him escape from the people he sees as his protectors, Jasmine risks losing everything: career, status, her mind, her future with the man she has come to love.
Plot/Idea: Despite a myriad of subplots, Bach Underwater's story—following Jasmine Goo's career promotion that changes the course of her life—offers readers a slice of mystery, romance, and even some supernatural moments.
Prose: The prose at times is poetic, especially when the characters are playing and discussing music. The story is heavy on plot points, which can make the dialogue confusing and hard to follow.
Originality: The story feels overcrowded, but the premise is highly original. Jasmine's work to uncover the truth behind her predecessor's death is compelling.
Character/Execution: The busy plot interferes with character development in places, but the author provides hints at background stories that will intrigue readers. Many questions are left unanswered, and Jasmine's role at her company is never fully clarified, but readers will find the novel attention-grabbing.
Date Submitted: August 04, 2023
In Huang’s thriller, an American reporter on the financial beat in Southeast Asia uncovers a sinister conspiracy.
Jasmine Goo, a financial journalist with a Wall Street media company, jumps a few rungs up the professional ladder when she’s suddenly offered a big promotion to bureau chief of Southeast Asia. Her predecessor, Jim Westport, died in an accident, likely the result of an “extreme sex game,” and she’s recruited to quickly fill the spot. Jasmine moves to the region, settling in a teeming city she calls Crow Town (the actual city and country Jasmine moves to are not identified). She discovers a grand piano in her new home and decides to renew the childhood lessons she abandoned, beginning to study with Joseph Liem, an imperious “dictator” blessed with impressive talent who harbors a deep ardor for Bach. The author quirkily but affectingly captures Joseph’s enthusiasm in this musically astute novel: “Remember, Bach lives under the water. You must report his thoughts merely by showing the audience the ripples on the surface so that we can trace the confluence of the ever-moving waves.” Jasmine comes to suspect that Jim’s death might not have been an accident, believing that he may have been murdered by thieves out to purloin a considerable tranche of “prehistoric gold” buried under an old temple. Huang writes with great intelligence and psychological depth—Jasmine is a memorable hero, as smart and brave as she is vulnerable and emotionally scarred by recent romantic failure and distant family tragedy. The author’s inclusion of some supernatural content feels gratuitous and silly, which detracts from the novel’s gravity, and at times the plot digresses so much and moves at such a leisurely amble that the narrative seems lost. However, this is overall a powerful work of fiction, culturally rich and dramatically gripping.
A captivating blend of crime drama and cultural commentary.