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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.
Though it wears the clever fleece of the self-help book, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is really a bildungsroman, the story of a protagonist's formation across the precarious terrain of youth and entrance to the state of adulthood. —Siddhartha Deb --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
This book beautiful describes this growing city, its flaws and opportunities that it avails.It's a good read on changing demographics and social conditions in Asia's growing cities.There is so much going on in these cities. Thousands of rural people moving in, searching for better life, and some achieving it. It is not slow change; it's visible sudden change. These dynamic cities perhaps hold the key to the future of rising Asia.
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.
"These artists of war -- those at the apex of organizations entrusted with national security -- are active even when their societies are officially at peace, quests for power being unrelenting, and in the absence of open hostilities they can be found either hunting for ever-present enemies within or otherwise divvying up that booty always conveniently proximate to those capable of wanton slaughter, spoils these days often cloaked in purchasing contracts and share-price movements. To partner in such ventures is to be invited to ride the great armor-plated, signal-jamming, depleted-uranium-firing helicopter gunship to wealth ..." (160)
This novel is a brilliant and cynical story of a rural youngster who moves to the big city to begin his climb to wealth, a story of the growth of an "emerging market" nation with weak democracy but rampant corruption and huge military establishment which controls much of the non-military economy. Chapter titles outline the steps to getting filthy rich in rising Asia-- "Move to the city," "Get an education," "Don't fall in love," Avoid idealists" (Hamid does not name them but they seem to be religious fanatics), "Learn from a master" (and don't steal too much), "Work for yourself" (create your own scams and frauds), "Be prepared to use violence" (retired military are good guards and killers), "Befriend a bureaucrat" (learn how to negotiate the bribe), "Patronize the artists of war" (who are able to award contracts), "Dance with debt" (the risk and reward of leverage).
A description of the great growth of the city (unnamed; Hamid lives in Lahore) during the country boy's striving years is similar to the description of the growth of Istanbul during the life of the country boy who moved to the city in Orhan Pamuk's beautiful novel A STRANGENESS IN MY MIND. The explosive growth of cities in "the third world" is a matter of concern to us in a rich nation. Millions of people are experiencing wrenching changes in the lives -- loss of traditional rural values and communities, rising expectations, close view of obscene gap between rich and poor, rising awareness of politics and corruption, rising pollution, stresses on governing structures.