38. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, Mohsin Hamid

23 Dec

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This book grabbed me by the guts and didn’t let go; I’m still thinking about the characters a week later, which is a strange feeling when a book is written in the second-person. The hero was “you”–definitely a person who had nothing in common with “me”–and the love interest only “the pretty girl,” yet their stories were so vivid and compelling, and the “you,” once I got used to it, was so deeply embodying, that I’m still wondering what the hero and the pretty girl could have done differently, if anything. Lying in bed at night I’ve found my mind drifting to them, their lives, wondering if they were good lives or bad lives, though of course the answer is just tragically mixed, as ours all are.

The book is about what the title says it’s about, and traces a protagonist from birth in rural poverty (chapter headings like “Move to the City”) up the success arc in an unnamed city that seems to be religiously Muslim, though it’s barely specified beyond the women sometimes going covered. The “How to” of the title is relevant, since the structure is maintained as a faux self-help book. And the observations about life and success are, while probably not actually helpful (since most readers are not trying to get filthy rich in rising Asia), funny and well-played.

I was a little bit off-put by both the voice and the prose, in the beginning. Unfortunately I quickly loaned my copy out, so don’t have the examples in front of me. It was choppy and hard to follow in places, and started off with a lot of squatting to shit and meaty thwhacking while people had sex. But fortunately the book was grabby enought that I stuck with it, and before too long I was utterly won over by the feeling of the stakes raising with each decade of age. I’m not sure if that’s true of all lives, or just the ones depicted, but it ended up being a powerful read. I will definitely read more from this author.

One Response to “38. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, Mohsin Hamid”

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  1. Top 10 Best and Worst New Books (That I Read In) 2013 | An Anthology of Clouds - December 23, 2013

    […] 3. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, by Mohsin Hamid This faux self-help book might be the best use of second-person narration since Bright Lights, Big City, and, as a meditation on living a good life, has stayed with me surprisingly vividly since reading it. It is, as it says, about a young man born into rural poverty in an unnamed Asian city, known only as “you,” and the success arc of his life. One of the first extremely clever structural innovations is how quickly the author makes us, the readers, whose life experiences are largely very different from the hero’s, actually live in his skin, and feel like “you” is us. […]

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