May Reads: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

A book written in second person. The writer speaking to the reader. Fiction written as a self-help book. Surely zara hatt kay? The narrative form intrigued me the most as I waited eagerly to get my  hands on Mohsin Hamid’s new book How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.  The mostly rave reviews that it was getting also added to my anticipation.

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About the whole second person thing. I don’t think any writer should attempt to write fiction in the second person again. This was one time too many. Although the style was definitely interesting at first, it got boring fast as Hamid drifted into the superfluous. In parts it seems gimmicky.

The book tracks the life and times of a dirt poor village-born  boy who makes it big as a successful business owner.  It’s very readable initially, fast past paced and gripping. It builds up really well in the first few chapters, but then as the character progresses towards becoming “filthy rich”, the story becomes a bit dull. Noting really happens. Pretty ho-hum from there on.

Mohsin Hamid’s book exists in a time warp. I’m not sure if it is intentional, or if this was meant to make the book more relatable to people, or even if it is okay in the name of artistic license. Although the book deliberately avoids naming characters or locations, entirely leaving it to the reader’s imagination, it is fairly obvious that the writer is alluding to Lahore and Karachi (“the coast”). And so the incongruity of the timeline in the book with the reality of the era the protagonists supposedly exist in at different stages in the book, can appear to be bloopers to fastidious readers.

So as Hamid would have us believe, the characters were using laptops with built-in cameras and mics in Pakistan as early as 1998, bottled water was a big  thing in the 1970s in urban Pakistan and mobile phones and DVDs were commonly used in the 1940s. All this is of course assuming that the protagonist dies in present day Pakistan 2013 at the end of the book, as hinted at by the frequent occurrence of bomb blasts and life as it is today. But maybe the book is set in the future? Who knows. I may be the only one who found the timeline in the book somewhat disconnected.

And yes I know, it’s not actually a self-help book. The narrator(?) too admits that it’s not “the very best of guides”  at the end of the novel. The mood of the book is definitely not in line with its purported theme.  It’s a grim book about lonely people. And since I wasn’t able to empathize with the main character in the least, I found it a bit hard to “love” the book as other reviewers seem to have. One would expect to be rooting for the protagonist in a rags to riches tale, but not so here. The book lacked any real emotion for me to really care, or even be mildly interested in what becomes of him.

Then there are many, many seemingly profound statements scattered all over the book which I couldn’t make an iota of sense of, despite re-reading many times. Such as this one:

“Surely ideals, transcending as they do puny humans and respositing meaning in vast abstract concepts, are by the very nature anti-self?”

Uhhhhh, what?

But that said, the book definitely was witty in parts initially. And it did have certain nuggets of wisdom written rather eloquently, such as my favourite bit here:

“Because if you truly want to become filthy rich… then sooner or later you must work for yourself. The fruits of labor are delicious, but individually they are not particularly fattening. So don’t share yours, and munch on those of others whenever you can.”

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