How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia was one of those books for me that was just nothing like what I expected. It got a starred review from Kirkus, which was why I decided to give it a try, but even that glowing write-up didn't prepare me for how much I would enjoy this book. Author Mohsin Hamid writes the book in the second person, so everything is "you"- and he writes it as a kind of mock self-help book, a kind of "how to live" for a generation on the cusp of a new era. But that's every generation, right, and the "you" is everyone.
But mostly the "you" is a male character growing up in a country resembling India or Pakistan, a rural boy brought to the big city with his family who makes his fortune in bottled water. Hamid's narrative tracks this man from childhood till death, and along with his fortunes tracks those of an unnamed woman known only as "the pretty girl," the man's lifelong love. Their story forms the heart of the book which also touches on various social and political issues and trends, including corruption, social mobility, marriage, religion, globalization and more.
But How to Get Filthy Rich is also a book about books, about their power and sway.
It's remarkable how many books fall into the category of self-help. Why, for example, do you persist in reading that much-praised, breathtakinginly boring foreign novel, slogging through page after page of please-make-it-stop page of tar-slow prose and blush-inducing formal conceit, if not out of an impulse to understand distant lands that because of globalization are increasingly affecting life in your own? What is this impulse of yours, at its core, if not a desire for self-help?So that's a question anyone could ask when reading a book about a different country, or even a different person. We are all foreign lands to each other, and books help us understand other places and other people. We learn how we're different as well as how we're the same, and Hamid has crafted a luminous universal story about life and love and the drive to make our mark:
We are all refugees from our childhoods. And so we turn, among other things, to stories. To write a story, to read a story, is to be a refugee from the state of refugees. Writers and readers seek a solution to the problem that time passes, that those who have gone are gone and those who will go, which is to say every one of us, will go. For there was a moment when anything was possible. And there will be a moment when nothing is possible. But in between we can create.And that's what this book is about, that time in between, when we can still make something and make something with ourselves. I love that Hamid says "we can create." It's possible. We have the choice- it's not written whether or not we will take it. His characters create lives for themselves, create personas, create a world around themselves. What they create is what you have to find out by reading this remarkable and lovely book.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.