Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore meets investment banker turned novelist Phillip Y Kim to discuss his debut book, which sheds light on the 2008 banking crisis in Asia.
Phillip Y Kim suggests we meet for a drink at the Four Seasons in Hong Kong. We are here to discuss the Korean-American investment banker’s debut novel, Nothing Gained, a fast-paced psychological thriller set during the 2008 financial crisis in Asia. In the hotel’s buzzy bar, chic clientele nurse drinks, a live band croons in the background and the view stretches over the sea as dusk descends. It is precisely the sort of place that Kim’s brash, brilliant protagonist, Jason Donahue – a wealthy banker whose sudden drowning sets in motion a chain of cataclysmic events – would visit for a drink.
In the novel Jason is happy to cheat on his wife and colleagues for fast cash and faster thrills. Kim is anything but. A slight man wearing jeans and glasses, he appears humble and personable. He is also faintly nervous. While he has carved a successful career in finance during his two decades in Hong Kong, writing is new territory in which he is largely untested. Kim first self-published his novel on Amazon under the title A Hidden Moon, fulfilling a lifelong ambition to write. Penguin China soon picked up the book. ‘I received one of these ‘drop the phone’ calls in the middle of the mall,’ Kim recalls, still wide-eyed.
The finished product was officially published this year and the Amazon version swiftly removed.
What made Kim, now 51, pick up his pen? ‘I wanted to lift the lid on the banking world of Asia. Whether good or bad, the characters you meet are very strong,’ says the author, who entered the industry in its heyday during the ’80s. ‘The people I met were fascinating. They were opinionated, smart and ambitious. They came from the best schools. It was very alluring. For my generation it was the profession.’
The story deals with the very public fallout of this glitzy set. ‘How do you talk about consequences of overarching greed?’ asks Kim. ‘I knew that was going to be a key theme. Talking about it on a societal level has been done many times. How do you personalise it? How do you make it more emotional? It’s the family. Whatever a bad banker has been doing comes back to haunt the family. I’m not doing anything new. It is just very, very common. Not just in banking.’
Dhs45. Available to download from the Kindle Store on www.amazon.com.