Jeff Golden leads an unexamined life. Everything is a surprise to Jeff, not because unusual things happen to him, but because he doesn't think ahead. Living on Long Island, Jeff seems destined for a life of uncomprehending mild misery. But moved to Hong Kong in 1997 where (as the book jacket pants) "handover boom fizzles into Asian economic bust," he is energized by history. While other characters try to tame or fight events and are swept away, Jeff's passivity allows him to float atop the wave. At his lowest point, abandoned by his girlfriend, betrayed by his mother and scorned by his wife; he awakens and surfs into the sunset.
Jeff's problems with women are all on his side of the ledger. He doesn't understand his mother, he treats her as a helpless stereotype. He finds himself on the wrong side of her in business because he didn't ask what her side was. His wife is smart and loving, but isn't going to treat Jeff with more respect than he feels for himself. His girlfriend values only actions, not words, and Jeff is not an actions kind of guy. All three women tolerate Jeff when he does what they tell him, and ignore him when he doesn't. Meanwhile, the women in the book not involved with Jeff are blossoming is all kinds of surprising ways, while the men mostly crumble.
Beyond the characters, the book has a lot to say about the nature of Asia. The setting in 1997 allows Cohen to explore deep aspects that are only apparent in times of crisis and change. The ideas and characters are wrapped in a glorious web of language. The scope for punning is awesome when you mix English, Chinese (with two main dialects and many variants), Hebrew, Yiddish, Japanese, Hong Kong pidgin and slang, and technical television production terms.
Finally, this book is about television business journalism. It's not clear if Cohen is an idealist worshipping journalism but hating its practitioners, or a grizzled veteran reporter who finds no meaning, for better or worse, beyond what makes it out in the final version.
Go out and buy this book for a fun read, for the sex, for the characters, for the cynicism, for the language, for Asia or for journalism. Or take one from column A and one from column B. But read the book.