The China Twist- Book Review

This is perhaps the first business related book that came to me for review and obviously I was excited about it. And needless to say, The China Twist did not dissapoint.

The China Twist is the story of how two very young and enterprising Wharton MBA graduates took the bold decision of opening Auntie Anne’s Pretzels chain of snack stores in China. This book is not so much about opening stores in China as their story of keeping it operating in hostile conditions which included local labor laws, health certifications, company registrations and the culture itself.

Asia is now one of the fastest growing markets for American fast food chains and all the brands who are trying to find a place there are racking their brains to come up with new dishes to please local tastes. Wen-Szu Lin and his partner faced the same dilemma as McDonald’s faced when they came to India. With a population over 1 billion no international brand can ignore the fact that India is a lucrative market for them.  In the era of global villages, even hardcore international firms strive to bring their own cultural flavor to a country.

The fact that McDonald’s failed in its first stint as they forgot to take out the ham in the hamburger when they came to India is a case study in itself. They ignored India's cultural aversion to beef and pork and later had to tweak their offering and now has some of the most local menu listings like McAloo Ticki (a burger with patty made out of potatoes, peas, and spices) and Maharaja Mac. Global fast-food businesses now come up with hybrid foods that folks back home don't hear about. This is just an example of how big brands can fail if they do not adapt to local settings and that’s what The China Twist is all about. Cultural issues were just one of the problems Wen-Szu Lin faced when he won his bid for exclusive China Master Franchise rights of Auntie Anne’s Pretzels.

The China Twist outlines the challenges that Wen-Szu Lin and his partner faced in China and the lessons learnt throughout their journey which ended with folding up of the chain. The story is interesting but exposes the hard reality of the hardships an alien product faces in a local setting. The book is entertaining in the true sense of the word as the authors take us through a labyrinth of cultural and bureaucratic obstacles. Marketing strategies, cultural sensitivity, bureaucratic stonewalling, labor laws; everything gets a new definition in the process of setting up the chains. I would term this book not as "how not to do business in China" but "how to do business in China".

There are so many case studies in this area where evidence suggests that utilizing both localization and globalization marketing strategies can make these fast food chains treat the world as one market but at the same time marketers should take up a sensitive approach towards local culture, labor laws, social and religious slant. The China Twist so correctly preaches that being sensitive and informed inevitably impacts the business performance positively. The China Twist is a case study with a personal touch and a heart. Go read it!

 Disclosure: I was provided the e-book version of the book by the Author.

Copyright (c) Pigtale 2005-2012. Images copyright respective holders.

Eviction Notice: Book Review

This book review has taken me ages as I was swamped with other books and some peripheral indulgences. So without much ado, here it is!

An absolute roller-coaster ride is what I would describe Eviction Notice as. Author Robyn Wyrick has taken an alien adventure story and turned it upside down punctuating the storyline with surprises, humor and incredible phantasm. A sci-fi that makes jokes at technology and aliens is a refreshing departure from the usual fare that we have been served in recent times.

Part futuristic, part adventure, Eviction Notice starts with a high school prank that sets into motion a series of events that threatens to break the very fabric of human existence. A high school tradition of creating alien crop circles becomes an open invitation to aliens to swamp Earth and serve an 'eviction notice'. 

Let’s start with the basics first; there is a Glen Fairy, who is a fairy (what else?), who possess the ability to heal the world of its abuses. In a bid to end a war, Glen Fairy was sold to Zorgon and Aloon Zigilbraxis was given the responsibility of delivering the cargo (read Glen Fairy). No issues till now. The problem was when the crop circle matched that of a similarly shaped beacon that would have helped the delivery pod to bring Glen so that Aloon could take her to Zorgon. Now the problem starts and it’s a hilarious problem. Gren Fairy gets delivered to Iowa where the pranksters had created the crop circle. Having lost Glen and told that only one thing could replace the lost Fairy; his death, Aloon takes over Earth and serves an 'eviction notice' to its rightful or unrightful inhabitants.

Since we can't have an all-aliens star cast, a depressed human is brought into picture. Alice Able is about to commit suicide when she is presumed to be the leader of human race because of a hilarious mistake. She is thrown into a race to save the Earth and make it the rightful place for humans as it always has been. The characters are well etched and the story is fast paced and never slacks even one bit and that’s what makes Eviction Notice a must read. Somewhere down the storyline, you would think that it is so unbelievable but if the child in you is still alive, you would take all of it with an incredulous smile and a glint in your eyes. I wish I was imaginative enough to conjure up such a fantastic piece of fiction.

The writing is so descriptive and nuanced that I could see it playing in my head as if it were a movie and I won't be too surprised if it were actually made into one. Humor is the one thing that stands out like a not-so-sore-thumb and is amazingly handled as this is one genre that is not easy to grip without going overboard. Robyn Wyrick has delivered a power packed tongue-in-cheek book that brings a smile to the face and puts forth a mirror to see the child in us. Bravo Mr Wyrick!

Disclosure: I was provided the e-book version of the book by the PR agency

Copyright (c) Pigtale 2005-2012. Images copyright respective holders.

The Bookie's Son- Book Review

This is one book that has made me wait for the longest time to read and review. I was supposed to get the hard copy of The Bookie's Son by Andrew Goldstein months ago but by some quirk of fate and the amazing efficiency of the Postal Department, I was denied the joy of holding the physical copy of the book. It was my loss entirely since The Bookie's Son is such an amazing story of bonding of a dysfunctional family.

Light but poignant, funny but touching, real but surreal is how I would describe Bookie's Son. It has all the ingredients that make a book unputdownable till the very end. Set in the 1960’s, the book throws us into the Davis’ family drama. And boy what an unconventional family it is. Amazingly depicted, The Bookie’s Son is set in the Bronx and takes us on a ride with Ricky Davis’ and his family’s fight for survival.

Truth is stranger than fiction and this comes forth very clearly in this book. Apparently The Bookie’s Son is based on the author’s life and that’s why it is all the more believable. Ricky Davis is a 12 year old lad with a bookie for a dad, a mother with failed aspirations and myriad aunts, each with idiosyncrasies of their own. One aunt is a kleptomaniac, the other one likes to be operated on and then there are a couple others who are either attention seeker or are experts in getting on people’s nerves. And to top it all, there is a nephew who is a child molester. It doesn’t take more than a few pages of this book to know that we are not in the midst of a normal family but it is so much better and fun to be in this family with its own heartaches and heartbreaks.

With Bar Mitzvah looming over his head, Ricky Davis is a worried boy as life has thrown a curve ball at him sucking him into a whirlpool of turmoil. His father, Harry has messed up big time by getting into a blotched up get-rich scheme that blows up in his face. The mobster (Nathan Glucksman) that Harry works as a bookie for is a despicable man with absolutely no ethics; not that we expect anything other than disgusting levels of ethics from him.

The real problem starts when Harry instead of collecting, gives away the mobster’s money to a tailor. All hell breaks loose and the situation assumes special gravity. Glucksman wants his money back and can go to any extent in either recovering it or let it go for some carnal pleasure. At this point both Ricky and his mother Pearl are thrown into the harsh realization that it is a do-or-die situation for them. As Ricky grows from a boy to a figurative man, he has to become the shoulder that his mother can lean on (sometimes uncomfortably) and explores and exploits Mara, the Hungarian refugee.

I will not go into the details of what happens next and how the drama unfolds but it would be safe to say that this gripping family saga takes its reader into a cocoon of crime, love, trust and hope. The Bookie’s Son is a book about relationships and it so truly conveys that come what may, family should always be first.

Andrew Goldstein weaves this story with a deft hand and delivers an emotional and moving tale that takes the reader into a world of uncertainties of life.

Copyright (c) Pigtale 2005-2012. Images copyright respective holders.

Add literature to your life in a flash

Tired of wading through that ponderous novel? Wishing authors could get to the point a little sooner? Try flash fiction. 

In the time it takes you to brew a cup of coffee or wait for your computer to boot up, you could read an entire story, start to finish. Maybe two. 

Although short stories may even predate the novel, flash fiction is a relatively new form of literature. Hard to define, because many editors, writers, bloggers and others have their own ideas of how long they should be, flash fiction stories are generally under 1,000 words. A popular form of the genre is 100 words; some editors tell writers to stop at 50 words. Flash fiction is a short, short, short, story. 

Can you really tell a story in, say, 100 words? That’s what I wondered when a friend challenged me to try it. He used the 100-word story as an exercise in a writers’ group he was leading. 

Writing a complete story in exactly 100 words is harder than it sounds. It was a challenge and one that I tinkered with for months. Finally I got the hang of it. I insisted that each story have a beginning, a challenge to the main character and a satisfying conclusion. After some time, I realized I had enough stories to fill a small book, and “Cops, Crooks and Other Stories in 100 Words” was born. Since I’m a mystery/suspense fan, many of my stories take the form of very small mysteries or cop stories. Here is one sample:  

Honor Among Thieves 

The darkened home looked empty. Pete tried the front door. Locked. Around back, he jimmied open a patio door with a credit card. 

Immediately, he saw a man holding a pillowcase full of something. 

“Shit. You startled me,” the man said. “First time I ever seen two guys break into the same house. I came in the window. But hey, I believe in professional courtesy. I’ve got jewelry and laptops. Rest is yours.”

Pete opened a drawer, reached inside.  

“Hold it,” Pete said, pointing a revolver. 

“What about professional courtesy?” 

“I forgot my keys,” Pete said. “I live here.” 

Flash fiction is a sometimes quirky but immensely popular art form. Here are a few measures of its popularity: 

Dozens of colleges and universities, including Stanford, University of Virginia and Washington University in St. Louis offer courses or seminars on flash fiction. The Virginia course description calls flash fiction, “an emerging genre of ultra-short creative writing.” Flash fiction is also taught at Brown University, UCLA, SUNY Plattsburg, New York and many other institutions. 

More than 300 print and online publications are dedicated to flash fiction. Duotrope, a website that matches writers with publishers, lists well in excess of 300 journals, magazines and other publications that feature flash. 

Hundreds of flash fiction contests are held annually. The contests range from impromptu competitions hosted by bloggers to official awards ceremonies such as the annual Micro Award, founded in 2008 by author Robert Laughlin to recognize outstanding flash fiction. Editors as well as flash fiction writers themselves enter stories for the Micro Award. 

Flash fiction anthologies by nationally known writers are climbing the sales charts. Lydia Davis, Etgar Keret, Margaret Atwood and Raymond Carver are among some of the more accomplished professionals in the genre. 

Smith Magazine has published a series of popular books containing six-word stories or memoirs. The publishers invite people to submit six-word life stories. The latest book in the series is called, “Six Words About Work.” 

If six words seems inadequate to tell a story, but you still don’t have time to digest volumes, flash fiction, from 50 words on up, can be your daily bite of literature. 

This is a guest blog by Mark S. Bacon, a former newspaper reporter and the author of several nonfiction business books. Visit him at 

Copyright (c) Pigtale 2005-2012. Images copyright respective holders.

Poor Little Rich Slum: Book Review

It's always a pleasure reading about the underdogs who have fought against their inherited destiny to survive and that too with dignity. Nothing fascinates us more than seeing people rise up from the abyss of uncertainty to scale heights of success.

Poor Little Rich Slum by Rashmi Bansal and Deepak Gandhi is very different from her previous books. This book is all about the struggles in Dharavi (Asia's largest slum) and their little victories. Rashmi's earlier books too were about successful people but this one is not so much about success than about survival. Much has been written about Dharavi and has even been immortalized in movies but the concept of writing about the entrepreneurs from the slum who used their ingenuity to find opportunities in literal filth or otherwise is pure gold. There is always an element of curiosity when is comes to the narrow lanes of Dharavi but at the same time there is a sense of admiration for the "heart" of the slum that no one cares for.

Divided into four sections called "Dharavi, What Ees?", "The Incubator", "The Cauldron Of Change" and "The Future", each deals with stories about people who have defied odds to show ingenuity and/or marched on the path of selfless passion. The entire book seems to be a guided tour of Dharavi conducted by Tauseef who runs a local tourist business.

Not all stories are about commercial success like that of Jameel Shah or Praveen Sakpal; there are myriad enterprises that look beyond money like SHEHA or the PUKAR Foundations. Poor Little Rich Slum does not give a lopsided view of what Dharavi is all about. It is well balanced by stories about rise in stature (economically) and rising as a human.

In a nutshell it all about what the book rightly mentions, "Dharavi is not just a physical location, it is an emotional entity." I am not one who glorifies slums and I feel that we cannot justify their existence by writing about the success stories emanating from them. The human spirit of survival need not find home in slums; it can be found anywhere. And if the writers meant we need more slums like Dharavi when they said, "Dharavi should be celebrated and replicated", then I beg to differ. Slum is not the answer; it is the question that needs to be answered in the first place.

The writing is simple yet lucid and would have been totally drab if not for the brilliant photographs by Dee Gandhi. This book is for anyone who complains that life is unfair and that it’s their destiny to be downtrodden. Dharavi teaches the spirit of the unbeatable mind and unquenchable thirst for rising from filth and reaching for the sky. 

I am sure that there are a million other stories with a "human" touch to them but for that you will have to visit Dharavi and find out. This book is a start so we need to do our bit and get to the bottom of it. Go ahead! Get Inspired!


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Copyright (c) Pigtale 2005-2012. Images copyright respective holders.

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