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How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia: A Novel Paperback – March 4, 2014
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Amazon Guest Review of “How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia,” by Mohsin Hamid
By Nell Freudenberger
Nell Freudenberger is the author of, The Newlyweds and Lucky Girls.
I was at a party the other night, when the man standing next to me said, "Where is the next great novel in the second person" (Will someone PLEASE start inviting me to some better parties?) As it turned out, I had an answer without even thinking about it, since I had just finished Mohsin Hamid's extraordinary How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.
This is the kind of novel with a conceit that any writer would envy: the book's structure mimics that of the cheap self-help books sold at sidewalk stands all over South Asia, alongside computer manuals and test-prep textbooks. Each chapter begins with a rule--"Work for Yourself," "Don't Fall in Love," "Be Prepared to Use Violence"--and expertly evolves into a narrative.
In precise, notably unsentimental prose, Hamid tells the story of an unnamed boy who moves from a village to a city. Hamid's decision not to name his character or his new home (which feels like Lahore, but could be any number of South Asian cities) is part of what makes the book so urgent and contemporary. "At each subsequent wonder you think you have arrived, that surely nothing could belong more to your destination than this, and each time you are proven wrong until you cease thinking and simply surrender to the layers of marvels and visions washing over you." This boy's journey is part of an enormous migration that is one of the great twenty-first-century stories, and yet Hamid makes it feel intimate and individual: a saucer-eyed kid in the dark on the back of a truck.
How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is a love story as much as a success story, and the opposition of its hero's twin passions gives the book a propulsive intensity. I found myself unable to do anything else until I finished it, and I don't think there's a reader on earth who could help wanting Hamid's hero to succeed--both in business and in his pursuit of "the pretty girl" whom he has loved since childhood. Her capital is a beautiful face that is emblematic of the way her country's ideals are changing; their tumultuous relationship both depends upon their shared past and is frustrated by their common need to escape it.
This short novel encompasses an especially eventful life, as its hero builds a small bottled water operation into a hugely successful company and realizes at least some of his dreams. At the same time, the substance of each chapter calls the self-help precept that began it into question--and finally the larger meaning of helping oneself. Can we help ourselves, and how much of our destinies do we control? What is the price of becoming "filthy rich," and does it mean something different for a village kid than it would for someone born into more comfortable circumstances? Hamid is especially moving on the subject of the hero's siblings, whose failure to capitalize on the city's promise has more to do with chance than with their particular characters. What the reader comes away with above all else is a feeling of tenderness for humankind as a whole--so vulnerable, and with such fierce desires.
More About the Author
His writing has been featured on bestseller lists, adapted for the cinema, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, selected as winner or finalist of twenty awards, and translated into more than thirty languages.
He was born in Lahore, Pakistan, and has spent about half his life there and much of the rest in London, New York, and California.
Top Customer Reviews
Where the novel soars is in Hamid's masterful writing. He tells the story of "You," his world and his life with a style and economy of words that speed the reader along. One example: "And where moneymaking is concerned, nothing compresses the time frame needed to leap from my-s***-just-sits-there-until-it-rains poverty to which-of-my-toilets-shall-I-use affluence like an apprenticeship with someone who already has the angles all figured out."
The self-help book format that begins each chapter, and may irritate some readers, reflects a genre popular with a certain demographic searching for inexpensive ways to improve their lot in life. Few novelists could write an entire work in which no character, city or country has a name. "You" and the half dozen people who matter in his life--the pretty girl, his parents, wife/ex-wife, son and thieving brother-in-law--are purposely imprecise and unsympathetic, composites of countless real-life individuals and their stories. In 240 pages of exquisite writing, Hamid manages to tell the tale of an extraordinary octogenarian and leave readers from widely diverse backgrounds with a story they will remember for a long time.
The book has twelve chapters each laying out a guideline for success in business in modern Asia very similar to those guidelines available in any number of actual nonfiction business books geared to developing the next set of great entrepreneurs and blue-chip businessmen (and women.) The guidelines include "Get an Education," "Don't Fall in Love," "Avoid Idealists," "Work for Yourself," and similar others. The proud and confident protagonist of this book--an unnamed "you"--follows these guidelines to what one can call a successful business career.
Whether the successful business career also equates to a successful life is another question and that may be the essential theme of this book. Readers will have to judge for themselves how the protagonist, and the narrator, evaluate the life of the protagonist as he leaves his hardscrabble rural environment as a young man and makes his business career in the big city.
Learning the rules to being a business success as he goes along, he leaves his village and family behind, has an irregular, long-term, mostly distant relationship with a young model, sees his parents die, gets married and has a son, and maneuvers deftly through the poverty, crime, bizarre bureaucracy, and transformative economy of the (unnamed) Asian nation feeling its way in a global evolution.
Very much like "The White Tiger," by Aravind Adiga, Mr.Read more ›
What made "Reluctant Fundamentalist" so vivid and so compelling was the voice: Hamid's main character was speaking directly to someone he has encountered in a Pakistani city, and explaining the process by which he became what he is today -- the man of the title. In contrast, the narrator of this novel is Hamid himself, or his proxy: a cynically omniscient presence, who speaks to the main character, an unnamed Pakistani toddler/boy/adolescent/young man/aging man, who defies the odds to do just what the title promises, become filthy rich (or at least, what passes for filthy rich in his world). "In the world of cooks and delivery boys and minor salesmen, the world to which you have belonged, a resident's bond is a rest stop on the incessant treadmill of life," the narrator 'instructs' his character at a key turning point in the latter's journey. "Yet you are now a man who works for himself, an entrepreneur.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A topical read but fast-paced with a lovely ending that saves the book, in a way.Published 18 days ago by Bibliophile
Why why why do I ever read fiction? Because I keep getting fooled by good reviews I suppose. If you want to know what's actually going on in China, read When A Billion Chinese... Read morePublished 24 days ago by Alice Friedemann
It's got a good writing style, easy to get into. Like many other books, great opening, okay body, and so boring ending. Read morePublished 1 month ago by jennjunyi
I read very little fiction for reasons I mostly can't explain. But I found this to be a brilliant premise carried out with brevity, style and grace ... Read morePublished 1 month ago by David E. Heintz
Very good writing.. Interesting and easy read. Sad ending.. Not sure if the setting is in India or Pakistan.. The author does not say.. Read morePublished 1 month ago by CaliforniaGuy
Although it is somewhat predictable at times, this is a beautifully written book that definitely put me in a self-reflective state. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Ryan