Book Review: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

09Apr13

filthyrich

Title: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

Author: Mohsin Hamid

Genre: Literary fiction

Length: 228 pages

Library: Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh — Main

Challenge: Library Books Reading Challenge 2013

Summary: A young man’s rise from obscurity to wealth, framed in the rhetoric of a how-to book.

Analysis

America isn’t the only country where people dream of rising from obscurity to prosperity. But how does that narrative change when the geographic location and cultural mores of the protagonist change? Hamid’s quietly brilliant tale follows a young man from poverty and obscurity in the countryside to wealth and respectability, outlining each step of his journey as if it were a self-help guide. The contrast between the unnamed hero’s external success and the melancholy state of his internal affairs–influenced heavily by his inability to be with the woman he really loves–make for poignant commentary on the nature of success. Geography plays a part here too, as the setting, while clearly somewhere in “rising Asia” is never specifically identified, allowing the reader to project his or her own cultural assumptions onto the narrative.

Hamid’s style and structure choices set this novel apart from others of its kind. Second-person narrative is a difficult thing to pull off, but it works here: the reader is asked to imagine him/herself in the protagonist’s place, which allows her/him to connect more closely with the action. Each chapter heading is a suggestion for a step you should take to get rich, which is then quietly undermined by the reality of just how difficult it is for you/the hero to do so under the circumstances. This pattern of setting up expectations, then quietly undercutting them, is very much like how it goes in real life. The fact that the hero succeeds anyway–or does he?–emphasizes on how much luck, chance, and sheer nepotism go into the process.

And then, the most brilliant trick of all, the last few chapters. It’s difficult to discuss them without spoiling the ending; suffice to say, in every hero’s journey there is a fall and a recovery. What Hamid asks us to consider is that the recovery is more precious than the heights before the fall. It’s also a wonderfully poetic look at the aging process, revealing its sweets and sours, culminating in the sense that, in the river of life, you’ve had the chance to really notice and savor one tiny drop before it rushes off down the waterfall, into whatever lies beyond.

Recommended for: poets and wannabe-poets; literary fiction fans who appreciate clever narrative structure; anyone interested in non-Western literature; people who appreciate a quieter, more subdued tone in their fiction; people still trying to figure out how to make their way in the world.

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