BookBrowse Reviews The International Bank of Bob by Bob Harris

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The International Bank of Bob

Connecting Our Worlds One $25 Kiva Loan at a Time

by Bob Harris

The International Bank of Bob by Bob Harris X
The International Bank of Bob by Bob Harris
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2013, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2014, 416 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Jo Perry

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


How much difference can a small loan make in the developing world? Bob Harris's memoir is a revealing look at the world of micro-finance.

The International Bank of Bob is part comic memoir, part informative travel journal, and, because we are introduced to so many people, a little like a speed-dating session. Still the book's organizing principle is simple and humane: The author, Bob Harris, who has made many loans through the micro-?nance loan organization, Kiva.org, decides to travel the world get to know the recipients of his loans. Harris sees how these loans affect their lives, and to meet the volunteers and representatives of Kiva's partners in the field.

Before becoming a micro-financier, Harris reviewed the most sumptuous and expensive food, drink and accommodations available on the planet for ForbesTraveler.com. Among his assignments was a stay at the Burj Al Arab Hotel in Dubai where "the World's Most Expensive Cocktail," at a cost of $7,438, is whisky served in a gold tumbler. The hotel had a vending machine dispensing gold bars, and "[goes] through five kilograms (eleven pounds) of fresh gold annually just in pastry decorations." The burnished excess of the Burj Al Arab afflicts Harris with "a severe case of wealth vertigo," and leads him to condemn the lack of "humane purpose" in the creation of hundred-dollar pastries. Harris also contemplates "the birth lottery," the arbitrariness of good or bad fortune that gives some people golden cups of Scotch while others, among them Dubai's immigrant construction workers, work twelve-hour days, six days a week, in horrific heat and humidity, for as little a $6 a day if they're paid at all (many must work for nothing for years to earn back labor "contracts.").

Harris resolves to use his earnings to help alleviate poverty from the bottom up, to strengthen struggling third-world economies, and to track what happens to his money. The personal nature of Kiva.org ("You could see the faces of individual people connected to your actions, along with short bios and descriptions of their plans."), as well as Kiva.org's high repayment rate, convince Harris to invest in a series of low-interest Kiva.org loans administered through local micro-finance institutions (MFIs). Harris travels to Peru, Sarajevo, Bosnia, Kenya, Rwanda, India, Vietnam, the Philippines, Cambodia and Beirut to see Kiva's partner MFIs in action and to visit the men and women who have received his loans. He observes their work in hair salons, furniture shops, convenience stores and farms, without their ever knowing that Harris is their lender.

Harris is efficient and thorough in his explanation of micro-lending and its successes, failures and challenges. He is sensitive to the psychology of giving, including the tendency to view the needy as helpless victims, and the numbness and paralysis donors can feel when facing the vastness of suffering and need (still, this doesn't excuse Harris's use of "overwhelm" as a noun.) Harris repeatedly asks the reader to seek a loving connection to others and an affirmative attitude toward experience. However a discussion of current data on the effects of income inequality on health, crime rate, and general well-being would have bolstered Harris' exhortations with powerful facts.

Harris often likens the borrowers he meets in developing nations to members of his own white, Christian middle-American family, and equates their work to work in America. When the Rwandan shop-owner Yvonne "[fiddles] absent-mindedly with a box on the counter ...," Harris must tell us that "[his] own mom used to do the same thing sometimes" and compares her shop to a 7-Eleven. Observing exhausted construction workers in Dubai, Harris remarks, "The faces of the workers I'd seen earlier, echoes of my father's own face, flashed through my mind." I found these comparisons unnecessary, and even annoying.

In addition to endnotes, Harris also provides copious footnotes on a variety of subjects, many of which disrupt the narrative:

"The next day, I told my friend Jane about it, and one of us––neither of us remembers who––started joking that I now officially opened the International Bank of Bob. *" Harris insists on adding the following hardly relevant footnote: "*Jane is a Hugo Award-winning TV writer, some of whose work you may have already enjoyed..."

Although The International Bank of Bob is an engaging and clever title, Harris' purpose would have been better served with something a little less ego-centric. Still, he educates, amuses, and introduces readers to people we're honored to know, all while explaining the sometimes complex workings of micro-finance in a lively and lucid way. And yes, Harris inspired me to make two $25 Kiva.org loans, one to an enterprising yogurt-maker in Pakistan and the other to a group of merchants in Bolivia.

Reviewed by Jo Perry

This review was originally published in April 2013, and has been updated for the February 2014 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Kiva.org Online Micro-Lending

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Art of the Wasted Day
    The Art of the Wasted Day
    by Patricia Hampl
    Patricia Hampl wants you to know that daydreaming is not a waste of a day. Nor is spending time ...
  • Book Jacket: Circe
    Circe
    by Madeline Miller
    Towards the end of Madeline Miller's novel Circe, the titular nymph is questioned by her son ...
  • Book Jacket: All the Names They Used for God
    All the Names They Used for God
    by Anjali Sachdeva
    Pre-publication press has already compared Anjali Sachdeva to Kelly Link and other genre-blending ...
  • Book Jacket: Look Alive Out There
    Look Alive Out There
    by Sloane Crosley
    After a brief (and thoroughly enjoyable) foray into fiction (with her 2015 novel The Clasp), Sloane ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey Ratner

A love story for things lost and restored, a lyrical hymn to the power of forgiveness.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Other People's Houses
    by Abbi Waxman

    A hilarious and poignant novel about four families and the affair that changes everything.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Leavers

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

One of the most anticipated books of 2017--now in paperback!

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

T E H N Clothes

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.