Part coming-of-age tale, part dark-side-of-business exposé, this novel chronicles an immigrant experience.
Majid Khan, who’s studying math at Cambridge in the 1970s, is more comfortable with numbers than people. He plans on becoming an insurance actuary, but it’s through Cambridge Union debates that he makes his mark and meets the fellow students who make a profound impact on his life. Ellen Evan is the first and only girl he takes an interest in, and Nick Knights brings out Majid’s competitive side, both in debates and after graduation, when Nick and Majid end up on the management fast track at the same firm. As his relationship with Ellen continues, Majid, who makes frequent references to the fact that he was almost considered autistic as a child, grows more comfortable with the fuzzier, more emotional side of life—something the author symbolizes by having Majid suddenly develop a sense of smell after being without it from birth. His professional life takes off at the same time, with the firm’s executives pushing Majid out of his comfort zone and into a place of prominence. He realizes he could one day see himself as a CEO, if only to ensure that Nick doesn’t get the position. When Majid tries to push the firm to meet the new British regulatory requirements (which, along with the country’s 1980s privatization plans and the intricacies of estate agencies, may be somewhat opaque to American readers), it’s evident that trouble lies ahead, especially when Majid, who has already seen his relationship with Ellen disintegrate, is pushed out of the company. Majid’s ethical man–vs.–corporate corruption battle makes for a compelling storyline, though it can at times get bogged down in the minutiae of financial products and management training exercises. On the other hand, his relationship with Ellen, especially as he sets wedding dates several years in the future and lets them slip by, may leave readers wondering if Majid will ever make it out of his extended adolescence.
A well-portrayed streak of emotional growth runs through this man’s journey from bookish undergraduate to business leader.