Thursday, September 12, 2013

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

A few weeks ago now I read How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid. I really enjoyed it, partially because it was a quick read, but also because Hamid does interesting things with the structure and language of the book. Whereas the tone in my favourite Hamid book, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, is very much structured as a conversation through which the reader learns the story, this book is, as the title might suggest, structured like a self help book. There are the chapter titles which reflect the learning principle to be covered, the story is told to "you" as the reader and then the reader skips through to the next principle meaning that there can be big jumps in the narrative time line.

One of the other interesting about this book is what the reader is not told. We never learn any of the characters names or where the book is specifically set (we know that it is a South East Asian country so my guess is possibly Pakistan but that is just a guess), and even the time frame is somewhat fluid. Some of the action takes place now but given that two of the characters bond over a love of movies by watching videos and then we see them when they are older I am thinking that some of it may well be in the future.

We first meet our main characters when he is a sickly young boy living in a village. His father works in the city as a servant but then comes home to see his family. After moving with his family to the city, we see the boy as he matures into adulthood and his initial attempts at entrepreneurship and then as a successful businessman selling bottled water through to his older years. We see him as he is married and becomes a father, as he occasionally interacts with the "pretty girl" who he first met as a young man and more.

It is important not to go into this book thinking that you are going to really like the characters. It is not that the main character is unlikable but he is not necessarily admirable. He is not above a little shonky business dealing, bribery, violence and more in order to make the transition from poor to filthy rich. This is also not a funny book, but there is a sense of humour that shows through in parts, or perhaps a better description would be satirical cleverness. I don't normally get satire, but this book is clearly satirising the whole idea of self help books. The fact that Hamid does that whilst still telling an interesting story about a particular set of characters is part of what makes this so interesting.

Initially when I sat down tonight I was intending to write a short introduction to the quote I am about to share as part of my irregular Bookish Quotes series. However, the intro has turned into a review! I still want to share the quote, which comes from pages 97-98, because I liked it, particularly the second paragraph.

Like all books, this self-help book is a co-creative project. When you watch a TV show or a movie, what you see looks like what it physically represents. A man looks like a man, a man with a large bicep looks like a man with a large bicep, and a man with a large bicep bearing the tattoo "Mama" looks like a man with a large bicep bearing the tattoo "Mama."

But when you read a book, what you see are black squiggles on pulped wood or, increasingly, dark pixels on a pale screen. To transform these icons into characters and events, you must imagine. And when you imagine, you create. It's in being read that a book becomes a book, and in each of a million different readings a book becomes one of a million different books, just as an egg becomes one of potentially a million different people when it's approached by a hard-swimming and frisky school of sperm.

Readers don't work for writers. They work for themselves. Therein, if you'll excuse the admittedly biased tone, lies the richness of reading.
Rating 4/5


From the internationally bestselling author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the boldly imagined tale of a poor boy’s quest for wealth and love.

His first two novels established Mohsin Hamid as a radically inventive storyteller with his finger on the world’s pulse. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia meets that reputation—and exceeds it. the astonishing and riveting tale of a man’s journey from impoverished rural boy to corporate tycoon, it steals its shape from the business self-help books devoured by ambitious youths all over “rising Asia.” It follows its nameless hero to the sprawling metropolis where he begins to amass an empire built on that most fluid, and increasingly scarce, of goods: water. Yet his heart remains set on something else, on the pretty girl whose star rises along with his, their paths crossing and recrossing, a lifelong affair sparked and snuffed and sparked again by the forces that careen their fates along.

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is a striking slice of contemporary life at a time of crushing upheaval. Romantic without being sentimental, political without being didactic, and spiritual without being religious, it brings an unflinching gaze to the violence and hope it depicts. And it creates two unforgettable characters who find moments of transcendent intimacy in the midst of shattering change


  1. Oh, I really liked the quote you shared!

  2. Isn't it fab! It was one of those moments when you read it and then deliberately stop and think I have to read that again!

  3. I have this in my library audiobook queue. Thanks for writing such a great review! I wonder if I would like it. For some reason, unlikeable characters are a lot harder to deal with when on audio.

    1. I have heard mixed reviews of the audio. I believe that the author does his own narrating. I have seen that work, but I have also seen it really, really not work too!

  4. This book is on my TBR list. Your review made me want to start it RIGHT NOW!



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