Unlike in the west, where after marriage we choose ourselves how we want people to refer to us, wives in China never take their husband’s family names, for example Xi Jinping and Peng Lijun. During Gu Kailai’s trial for murdering Neil Heywood, her husband Bo's surname was bizarrely added to her name in newspaper reports—Bo Gu Kai Lai—to ensure that everyone knew Bo was involved in his wife’s corrupt schemes. The government’s attitude is not so subtly indicated by how names are translated or written in newspapers. While the combining of surnames was unique, artful dodges to extract money from China were not. Corrupt Chinese officials took $85 billion between the 1990s and 2008.
Deutsche Bank also benefitted from this corruption through a network of unqualified but well-connected hires, and bribes, going from nothing to the top bank in China for IPOs according to investigations by the Süddeutschhe Zeitung and the New York Times. How does this connect with women in David Enrich's Dark Towers?
Aside from the obvious that Enrich only mentions China twice, there also aren’t many women in Dark Towers; how he refers to them gives a clue to his attitude. Women are used to create a background for the men—Broeksmit’s Ukrainian wife, Edson’s French mistress: 'Now they had both lost their men. "They are together now," Alla whispered.' There's Neil Young’s soon-to-be-divorced wife helping Val, and ‘Rossi’s still grieving widow…in the corner, clad in black’. Only one woman has a main part, Rosemary Vrablic; language is used to flatten and distance her. Another woman who perhaps could or should have had a main part is neither male nor American nor a widow. Frauke Menke is German and determined. She is also buried in a chapter called ‘No Confidence’, which focuses on a figure sympathetic to the author, ‘Anshu’. Frauke Menke challenged 'Anshu' and contributed to his downfall.
Enrich doesn't just use Anshu's first name, he uses first names and diminutives for all the men he likes—Anshu, Bill, Edson, Val. He uses surnames and full names for those he does not: Ackermann, Trump, Justin Kennedy, Mike Offit, Rosemary Vrablic.
Names in the table of contents also give an indication of Enrich’s sympathies. Of the 35 chapters, 19 are names, or refer to a person:
|Chapter Title||Refers to|
|Edson and Bill||Edson Mitchell, Bill Broeksmit|
|Trump’s Bankers||Mike Offit, Justin Kennedy|
|Der Inder||Anshu Jain|
|“This Guy is a Danger”||Donald Trump|
|Clueless Old Man||Bill Broeksmit|
|Anshu Ascendant||Anshu Jain|
|Chapter Title||Refers to|
|Life Extinct||Bill Broeksmit|
|The North Koreans||Valentin Broeksmit|
|No Confidence||Anshu Jain|
|Trump Endeavor 12 LLC||Donald Trump|
|The Damage I Have Done||Valentin Broeksmit|
|Person of Interest||Bill Broeksmit|
|Rosemary is the Boss||Donald Trump|
|Do Not Utter the Word “Trump”||Donald Trump|
|A Note from the President||Donald Trump|
Five of the chapter titles refer to Trump. Rosemary Vrablic is the only woman and the only person who is given her full name. Her first name is used in ‘Rosemary’s the Boss'; this is a paraphrase of what Trump (allegedly) said to a journalist. It shows Trump’s closeness to 'Rosemary', not the author’s. Part I starts with ‘Edson and Bill’; part II starts with ‘Valentin’. Many other chapters do not name Bill and Val, but refer to their struggles. Anshu Jain’s first chapter is ‘The Indian’, a reference to German racism. You might wonder if the author has spent any time with Indians listening to how Indians refer to other people, or whether it occurs to him that outside the liberal west people are pretty liberal with their racism, and it's neither illegal nor frowned upon. ‘Anshu’ does get another chapter and that is his triumph in ‘Anshu Ascendant’.
After the table of contents, the prologue frames the book, focusing on ‘Val’, ‘a wiry American’, who had woken up from a ‘drug-fueled jam session with his band’, ‘a talented musician with thirty-four albums to his name’, ‘his friends sometimes told him he resembled a tramp’, but today we are told is different. Today, ‘Val was determined on this Sunday not to get an earful from his mother about looking like a slob. He wore slacks, a blue blazer, and a black woollen cap.’ Val’s desperate search for his mother’s love is in the background of this novel, or presumably it has to be there as a reason why it is okay for him to steal his mother’s credit card details to fund his lifestyle and his search for answers to his father’s death. In the prologue, we hear his mother speaking the same amount as we hear their housekeeper, Belle. It is emotional, ‘She was wailing.’ '“He killed himself,” his mother gasped.' This is all written from Val’s perspective. Later, we're told that Alla had actually raced to try CPR before she 'curled in the fetal position on the dark wooden floor, her head resting on a pilow next to her husband's face' wailing. The question posed to motivate readers is not why did a man with a happy family—wife, son, two daughters—take his life, but why did Val’s father kill himself? And, presumably like all good detective novels, will his murderer—Trump's primary lender Deutsche Bank—be held responsible?
The next person to appear in the prologue is Jacques Brand, the hero who finally says no to Trump. He is a healthy man, ‘a native of Ghana, a triathlon competitor, and a father of three with greying hair and a toothy smile.’ He is contrasted with Rosemary Vrablic, ‘a slim, stylish woman with short gray hair’ who was ‘accustomed to getting her own way,’ an unhealthy habit.
The prologue tells us that this book is about ‘one well-intentioned and honest man, who tried to save the bank but couldn’t save himself, and about his son, who embarked on a quest to understand his father’s demise.’ This sentence is sandwiched between ‘Deutsche Bank’s rise and fall’ and ‘the forty-fifth’s president of the United States—that Deutsche Bank wrought on the world’. Yet, we're told that the emails the author bases his epic hero Val's quest on contained 'no bombshells' and 'scant mention of Trump.' Trump never loaned billions from Deutsche. He wasn’t in the same league as Chinese, Russians, or Africans for business or corruption. Perhaps it was Trump’s ability to put himself at the centre of everything, or the American media’s habit of putting him there, that played a greater role in his becoming president than Deutsche Bank? But, Trump really isn’t that important, even to the story. If the women are the furniture, Trump is the court jester.
This book is about the media's obsession with Trump and a German bank that according to the narrative took away our hero’s father. The author uses the diminutive ‘Val’ to soften the anti-hero—Valentin. His father, Bill Broeksmit, whose emails are a central source of the author’s information, is only given co-credit for the first chapter with his first name, after Edson (Mitchell). Enrich's use of their first names shows his sympathy. Bill is in the background of ‘Fireman’, ‘Person of Interest,’ and 'Clueless Old Man', a chapter about his noble but futile struggle against Deutsche Bank. 'Clueless Old Man' comes not from from the author's perspective, but Troy and his team of traders whom Bill is trying to reign in. Analysing how Enrich uses names in the anecdote at the start of Chapter 15 shows how surnames are used for characters who we are meant to be distanced from; first names are used to introduce sympathy and feeling.
'Troy Dixon' and 'Troy' are used once; Troy always in the sense of ‘Troy and his team’. ‘Dixon” is used thirteen times.
|Troy Dixon||Troy Dixon was one of Deutsche’s brash young traders|
|Troy||Troy and his team were pretty sure Bill didn’t grasp the nuances of their trade.|
|-||Bill invited Troy and his team out to dinner|
|Dixon||Dixon was straight out of central casting|
|-||Dixon’s unit had made a massive wager|
|-||Dixon’s team amassed a gargantuan $14 billion position|
|-||Dixon was cutting corners|
|-||Dixon was on the verge of spinning out of control|
|-||He set up a meeting with Dixon|
|-||his efforts to curtail Dixon.|
|-||Dixon griped to his team|
|-||he was pissing off Dixon|
|-||Broeksmit and Dixon continuing to bicker|
|-||Dixon and the other traders went off to a bar to laugh about him|
|-||Dixon's trades ultimately blew up.|
In comparison, Bill Broeksmit is also used once, Broeksmit seven times. Our friend Bill appears six times.
|Bill Broeksmit||Mitchell and Bill Broeksmit as his sidekick|
|Broeksmit||They presented the materials to Broeksmit|
|-||Broeksmit kept noodging [sic]|
|-||Broeksmit could tell|
|-||Broeksmit had never heard of him.|
|-||Broeksmit kept asking questions that betrayed his ignorance|
|-||Broeksmit had been a pioneer of the derivatives market|
|Bill||everyone, back then, listened to Bill.|
|-||Bill was out of his depth.|
|-||Bill asked why.|
|-||Bill asked, “So?”|
|-||Bill picked up the tab|
|-||Bill was astute and sensitive|
Enrich uses 'Bill' to pass positive judgement and bring him closer. Broeksmit is a distanced professional; Bill is our colleague and buddy.
Ackermann, 'a profit-obsessed enabler,' only gets a surname—so he isn’t important. Frauke Menke, who confronted Deutsche Bank, in another narrative might be a heroine, but the focus is not on a well-intentioned woman fighting for justice. Enrich uses 'Menke' six times and 'Frauke" not once.
|Frauke Menke||Frauke Menke, fifty-five years old|
|Menke||It was Menke who…had derailed Broeksmit's promotion|
|-||Menke had been monitoring|
|-||Menke sent a letter|
|-||Menke’s real goal seemed to be to draw blood.|
|-||Menke went through the bank’s senior executives|
|-||Menke rattled off a long list of lapses|
Why Menke's age is important is not said. Enrich depicts her as ‘a small woman with short blond hair and pale blue eyes’ who ‘finally lost her cool,’ who ‘watched with mounting alarm’, and whose 'real goal seemed to be to draw blood'. The image of blood is used again when talking about the goal of the letter, 'The company’s most important regulator was calling for a transfusion of new blood.’ The traders are bloodthirsty; the Germany regulator is out for blood. The New York Fed is described as ‘mild’ in comparison. Yet, isn’t the author saying that those who said no to Trump are heroes, why not those taking on the banking industry? A German magazine talks about her ‘mysterious clout, rare public appearances, and ‘“pageboy” haircut’. Enrich points to her helplessness, loss of control, even animal nature; a magazine focuses on her power and boyishness. I couldn’t find an image in the public domain of Menke, these two paint different pictures, one happy and laughing, another ‘Strict, Strict Menke . Without more knowledge, it’s impossible to say which portrayal is correct. Maybe there is some truth in all, maybe in none; however, Dark Towers is not neutral.
As for Rosemary Vrablic, we are informed she was ‘Ambitious and eager’, that she ‘dressed in jackets with shoulder pads and wore blouses with floppy bows’, or that she ‘broke down’ on the subway. This emotion colours the reports that of her ‘asking incisive questions and offering thoughtful insights about the industry’. We are repeatedly told she is ‘the best private banker out there’. However, we are also told she was still given the ‘demeaning nickname of “Little Rosemary” or ‘bestowed with the uncreative nickname RV’ and like a serial killer, she kept mementos of her loans. While she was given ‘a tender embrace’ from a billionaire client, she ‘wasn’t very popular inside Deutsche’, and that she ‘had a tendency to be brusque’. It’s difficult to believe that strong and hardworking women come out as the bad guys, although they are so backgrounded, you would be forgiven for missing them. This is after all a story about men.
Hatred for Trump seems to be an obsession with the American media. The NYT’s article about the investigation into Deutsche Bank in China manages to shoehorn in a reference to Deutsche Bank's being ‘primary lender to President Trump’. To put Trump’s Deutsche Bank deals into perspective—Deutsche Bank also manipulated the Libor, laundered billions of dollars, and mis-sold derivatives throughout the world. The world is a very bad place. Trump is the tip of the illegality iceberg; Dark Towers manages to portray him as being untrustworthy, rather than outright illegal. The American media seems to condemn Trump as being somehow the worst in the world. He is not. America has term limits for Trump; the Chinese government does not, nor do many dictators.
Enrich, as the Chinese government, betrays his feelings through his use of names and descriptions. Women aren’t his friends. Strong women are distant—supporting the villain or thwarting the heroes; minor grieving females add a touch of flavour to the author’s narrative, like the few words of Latin Chaucer’s Pardoner adds “To saffron with my predicacioun”. Women (China, and the world) arguably deserve much more attention in any 'epic tale of destruction' about the rise and fall of Deutsche Bank; Trump a lot less.
(For a review of Dark Towers see this link.)