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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 the Hardcover edition.
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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.
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.
This book feels as if it sits some where between fiction and non-fiction, yet an autobiography, in either of those realms, possibly your own, no matter how differently your life is proceeding.
Give this book a read, it's well worth every word.
Told as a second person narrative, "How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia" (hereafter "HTGFRIRA"), is about the rise and fall of a unnamed boy who moves to an unnamed slum of a city in poverty and ends up one of it's wealthiest denizens. Along the way he will fall in love, start a business, get married, and guide his business up the wheel of fortune and watch as it falls back into the muck.
Hamid's book is grounded in enough of present day Third World problems that it feels real and important. All the issues in deregulated Third World states - lack of environmental protection, fraud, corruption, exploitation of workers, vulnerability to organized crime - all come into play here. And because "HTGFRIRA" is so light and unencumbered by plotting or characters, reviewers or well-educated readers can easily turn it into a tool in their next debate. Like a shiny bowl to be filled with rhetoric. The setting the story takes place in, a world of endless urban sprawl, no environmental regulations, and sub-standard products should be familiar to anyone that has spent time off the beaten path in the sub first world.
The nameless hero dodges and weaves his way to the top of the Third World totem pole by cunningly taking advantage of or skirting all the issues I mentioned before. He is a huckster. Selling water, the most essential of all commodities, that he boils to proper safety standards (sometimes) in his basement. He uses a gang to protect himself from violent rivals. He negotiates the asinine bureaucratic rules of the government. The unnamed country (seems like India to me) is as much a character as our protagonist, a place where the drive for growth has outstripped rules and decency, where only the cunning and immoral can advance (a place best shown in journalism in the New Yorker article "Boss Rail" by Evan Osnos from October 2012). Throughout Hamid's prose shines with clever turns of phrases, metaphors, use of imagery continually raising my eeybrows.
Brief aside: I would recommend reading this book without the dust jacket. I was approached in the mall while reading it by a woman who thought that it was an ACTUAL self-help book; IE that I actually was reading a book that would teach me how to get filthy rich in rising Asia. She clearly wanted to verbally go at it, as it took some persuading to convince her that it was a novel rather than a tool for me to learn how to exploit and get rich off Asians. She proceeded to say something about Asia which may have been profound but I forgot and something about leadership; how Chris Christie is a true leader because he can physically intimidate people (while saying this she started bumping up against me). Top 5 most bizarre experience I've ever had at a Best Buy Mobile
This book, which I enjoyed a lot, is a little like a Maserati - it's great at going fast, but you couldn't bring your daughter to soccer practice, go on a roadtrip, or get groceries with it. I judge books on prose (writing style, symbolism, use of metaphors, etc), the characters, the plot, and the overlying themes and literary significance (I would probably rate the importance as 30, 30, 30 and 10 percent of my overall grade, respectively). What is missing from "HTGFRIRA" is the drive and motivation of the protagonist. He wants to make a bunch of money, wants his business to succeed. Not sure why....which makes sense, because the protagonist is you! "HTGFRIRA" is undone by the same gimmick which makes it great. The lack of character development and motivation condemns the "HTGFRIRA" to fancy sports car status. Might not be the best car in the world, but it sure can fly, though.