Cohen’s debut novel tells the story of a successful adman who relocates to Indonesia to pursue a career opportunity and become a novelist.
After graduating from the University of Southern California’s film school and later creating an internationally successful ad campaign for a juice company, Paul Goldberg could have any advertising job he wanted, so he chose one in Indonesia. “I thought it’d be good material” for a novel, he explains. “Jewish born American atheist as top dog at an ad agency in the most Muslim country on earth, which happens to be in Southeast Asia.” Paul quickly sets out to generate said material by checking out Indonesia’s local bar scene, meeting other expatriates, and having sex with as many women as he can. He delights in the cultural differences between his new home and the United States, both in his new advertising firm, MBD Global, and in the nightlife. At first, it’s all good fun, and his numerous romances make him contemplate his own growth as a person. But as Paul starts to dig deeper into Indonesia—for the sake of his book—his life there gets a lot darker, involving illegal activity, Russian gangsters, and Filipino pirates. The success of Paul’s hypothetical novel becomes far less important than making it home alive. Cohen’s prose is breezy and energetic, and he gives Paul’s voice a mix of enthusiasm and provocation: “The underbelly of Jakarta at night was straight out of a spy movie. Countless alleys and dark, mysterious passageways. People gathered in shadows, allowing me to imagine dealings of local and international intrigue.” Even so, readers will quickly sour on the author’s apparent love for his protagonist. Other characters are constantly telling Paul how creative and funny he is, for example, and he rarely meets a woman who doesn’t sleep with him later the same day. (He coarsely and problematically credits the latter phenomenon to the supposedly intrinsic libidinousness of Indonesian women.) Cohen’s attempt to critique a cartoonishly misogynistic character does little to counter the book’s overall tone of frat-boy chauvinism. The ending, perhaps appropriately, feels like something out of a film-school project.
A personality-driven novel that features a lot of sex but not a lot to say.