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How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia: A…

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia: A Novel (edition 2013)

by Mohsin Hamid

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Title:How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia: A Novel
Authors:Mohsin Hamid
Info:Riverhead Hardcover (2013), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 240 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:2013, fiction

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How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid



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Nell Freudenberger is the author of, The Newlyweds and Lucky Girls.

I was at a party the other night, when the man standing next to me said, "Where is the next great novel in the second person" (Will someone PLEASE start inviting me to some better parties?) As it turned out, I had an answer without even thinking about it, since I had just finished Mohsin Hamid's extraordinary How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.

This is the kind of novel with a conceit that any writer would envy: the book's structure mimics that of the cheap self-help books sold at sidewalk stands all over South Asia, alongside computer manuals and test-prep textbooks. Each chapter begins with a rule--"Work for Yourself," "Don't Fall in Love," "Be Prepared to Use Violence"--and expertly evolves into a narrative.

In precise, notably unsentimental prose, Hamid tells the story of an unnamed boy who moves from a village to a city. Hamid's decision not to name his character or his new home (which feels like Lahore, but could be any number of South Asian cities) is part of what makes the book so urgent and contemporary. "At each subsequent wonder you think you have arrived, that surely nothing could belong more to your destination than this, and each time you are proven wrong until you cease thinking and simply surrender to the layers of marvels and visions washing over you." This boy's journey is part of an enormous migration that is one of the great twenty-first-century stories, and yet Hamid makes it feel intimate and individual: a saucer-eyed kid in the dark on the back of a truck.

How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is a love story as much as a success story, and the opposition of its hero's twin passions gives the book a propulsive intensity. I found myself unable to do anything else until I finished it, and I don't think there's a reader on earth who could help wanting Hamid's hero to succeed--both in business and in his pursuit of "the pretty girl" whom he has loved since childhood. Her capital is a beautiful face that is emblematic of the way her country's ideals are changing; their tumultuous relationship both depends upon their shared past and is frustrated by their common need to escape it.

This short novel encompasses an especially eventful life, as its hero builds a small bottled water operation into a hugely successful company and realizes at least some of his dreams. At the same time, the substance of each chapter calls the self-help precept that began it into question--and finally the larger meaning of helping oneself. Can we help ourselves, and how much of our destinies do we control? What is the price of becoming "filthy rich," and does it mean something different for a village kid than it would for someone born into more comfortable circumstances? Hamid is especially moving on the subject of the hero's siblings, whose failure to capitalize on the city's promise has more to do with chance than with their particular characters. What the reader comes away with above all else is a feeling of tenderness for humankind as a whole--so vulnerable, and with such fierce desires. ( )
  lmbigens | Apr 13, 2014 |
I did not like the writing style of this book and the story did not grip me. Overall, I did not enjoy this book. ( )
  eheinlen | Apr 9, 2014 |
Inventively and beautifully written in the second person, Hamid creates a life story of a poor Asian boy seeking wealth. This small book has many facets; mocking the dream of wealth, exposing the underhanded practices of emerging corporations, the impact of urban life, and the intersection of lives and crossed paths. SRH ( )
  StaffReads | Apr 4, 2014 |
Inventively and beautifully written in the second person, Hamid creates a life story of a poor Asian boy seeking wealth. This small book has many facets; mocking the dream of wealth, exposing the underhanded practices of emerging corporations, the impact of urban life, and the intersection of lives and crossed paths. ( )
  St.CroixSue | Apr 4, 2014 |
March 29, 2013
Yes Man

“How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia” begins under a bed. With you — yes, you — under a bed. Once you quit cowering, you’ll be the hero of this novel written in the second person, although there’s nothing remotely heroic about you at the moment; you’re so sick you can scarcely speak. The only remedy at hand is a large white radish, which your mother cooks up in a foul brew.

Courage. You’ll live and what’s more, you’re only seven steps from getting Filthy Rich, according to the narrator. (You’re also nine steps from ruin, but we’ll address that in a minute.) The marriage of these two curiously compatible genres — self-help and the old-fashioned bildungs­roman — is just one of the pleasures of Mohsin Hamid’s shrewd and slippery new novel, a rags-to-riches story that works on a head-splitting number of levels. It’s a love story and a study of seismic social change. It parodies a get-rich-quick book and gestures to a new direction for the novel, all in prose so pure and purposeful it passes straight into the bloodstream. It intoxicates.

But back to the radish. It saves you — or was it perhaps something more numinous? Luck has already begun clearing your path. “There are forks in the road to wealth that have nothing to do with choice or desire or effort, forks that have to do with chance, and in your case, the order of your birth is one of these,” the narrator congratulates you. You’re a third-born son. Third born means you’re spared from going to work immediately (like your elder brother) or being married off (like your sister, who at puberty is “marked for entry”). Third born means you’re not “a tiny skeleton in a small grave at the base of a tree,” like your youngest sibling. Third born means you stay in school.

Even your illness is a blessing; it persuades your father to move the family to the city — Step 1 in getting Filthy Rich — and it’s the point where the story of the individual debouches into the narrative of the nation. “You embody one of the great changes of your time,” Hamid writes. “Where once your clan was innumerable, not infinite but of a large number not readily known, now there are five of you. Five. The fingers on one hand, the toes on one foot, a minuscule aggregation when compared with shoals of fish or flocks of birds or indeed tribes of humans. In the history of the evolution of the family, you and the millions of other migrants like you represent an ongoing proliferation of the nuclear. It is an explosive transformation.”

You ascend smoothly, going from DVD rental delivery boy to young entrepreneur with a bottled water business that thrives “to the sound of the city’s great whooshing thirst,” goaded on by the narrator’s edicts (“Learn From a Master,” “Don’t Fall in Love”), which grow steadily more sinister (“Be Prepared to Use Violence”). You marry but remain besotted with a girl from the neighborhood identified as “the pretty girl,” now working as a model and making her own hazardous climb.

Like his compatriot, the Pakistani novelist Mohammed Hanif, author of “Our Lady of Alice Bhatti,” Hamid creates characters who enact the life of the nation. But where Hanif (a former fighter pilot) favors broad burlesques — a literature of parody and attack — Hamid (a former brand consultant) is politic and deeply ironic. He grew up in Pakistan and America, with stints in Milan and Manila (where our families were friends). He’s alert to the dread and distrust with which America and the Muslim world regard each other. He’s never merely telling a story, he’s pitting his story against prevailing narratives about Pakistan, the roots of radicalization, the unevenness of economic growth. Hence his penchant for directly addressing the reader — all three of his novels make extravagant use of the second person.

“I’m a political animal,” Hamid told the Book Review in an interview last year. “How the pack hunts, shares its food, tends its wounded — these things matter to me.” There’s no better description of what he strives to capture in this book. Where Virginia Woolf attends to the inner lives of her most peripheral characters, Hamid gives every extra a history of violence and a lurid financial back story; he revels in the dream deferred, the loan denied, the fingers lost to creditors. A technician helping perfect the water purification technology is conjured in a few swift strokes: “He is a bicycle mechanic by background, untrained in the nuances of business, which is why he works for you, and also because, as the father of a trio of little girls and the youngest son of a freelance bricklayer who died of exposure sleeping rough at too advanced an age, he values a steady income.” By supplanting the traditional role of choice in the novel with chance, by defining characters by their modes of survival rather than their personalities, he puts powerlessness at the center of his story. And by turning from his cast of terrestrial drones to the aerial drones silently monitoring their progress, he signals to powerlessness on a global scale.

Cleverly, Hamid sets “How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia” in an unnamed country, stripping away almost every signifier save a few that suggest we are in Pakistan. No mangoes, no mullahs, no preconceived notions. Defamiliarizing Pakistan also obviates another criticism. “Although globalization is universally acknowledged as one of the most pressing issues of our time, it has usually proved a poor subject for fiction,” the writer Siddhartha Deb observes. Too many books exhibit “an endless fascination for pop-culture trivia, poststructuralist meta-theories and self-referential irony.” With only a few props — an assault rifle, a packet of milk, a white radish — and only the slightest tinge of tear gas in the air, the novel feels mythic, eternal rather than frenetic. And the bare stage is the best showcase for the narrator’s one-man show.

Hamid, like Kazuo Ishiguro, specializes in voices in transition, split at the root, straining for cultivation and tripping over clumsy constructions. This narrator speaks to us in two tongues, in self-help’s slick banalities and the bewilderment of the striver. He’s magnificently fraudulent and full of uses; he swoops in to do exposition, pans away to turn prophetic or play sociologist (“You witness a passage of time that outstrips its chronological equivalent. Just as when headed into the mountains a quick shift in altitude can vault one from subtropical jungle to semi-arctic tundra, so too can a few hours on a bus from rural remoteness to urban centrality appear to span millennia”). He can be chilling and chummy, and very hard to shake. Some of the book’s more serious sections, on mortality, say, are imbued with a vestigial phoniness, and a self-referential ode to storytelling has the soul-lessness of a TED talk. It’s a shame; Hamid is a stronger, stranger writer than that.

Witness the final reversal. The book ends with you, the hero, in your eighth decade, a Gatsby we never knew: an old man in a hotel room, trying to remember to take your medicines regularly. And as it turns out, there is still something left to learn, something more vital than how to get Filthy Rich. You teach us how to lose. How to relinquish health and hope; how to surrender assets to thieving relatives and one’s children to America. “Slough off your wealth, like an animal molting in the autumn,” Hamid writes. Look up the pretty girls of your youth. Find someone to play cards with. “Have an exit strategy.”
The Washington Post
By Ron Charles,
Published: February 26, 2013

The first thing you notice when you start Mohsin Hamid’s extraordinarily clever third novel is that it’s written in the second person. That’s rare, even rarer than the first-person plural, which we enjoyed in Jeffrey Eugenides’s “The Virgin Suicides” and Eleanor Brown’s “The Weird Sisters.” In fact, you can’t remember reading anything narrated in the second person since Jay McInerney’s “Bright Lights, Big City” (1984), which you actually only pretended to have read after you saw the Michael J. Foxmovie.

Why not just stick with the good old third person? Don’t you find the second person hard to tolerate — the way it constantly reaches off the page and pokes you in the I?

As it turns out, that sense of being directly addressed is what this author exploits so brilliantly in “How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.” Hamid, who attended Princeton and Harvard and now lives in Pakistan, has taken the most American form of literature — the self-help book — and transformed it to tell the story of an ambitious man in the Third World. It’s a bizarre amalgam that looks like a parody of the genre from one angle and a melancholy reflection on modern life from another.

With a wink to Dale Carnegie and Stephen Covey, Hamid’s chapter titles lead us inexorably toward success: “Move to the City,” “Get an Education,” “Learn from a Master.” And he often strikes a perfect imitation of that overconfident, just-between-us tone that has appealed to the desperate for generations: “To be effective, a self-help book requires two things. First, the help it suggests should be helpful. Obviously. And second, without which the first is impossible, the self it’s trying to help should have some idea of what help is needed.”

So true, so true. I can picture my lonely teenage self jotting that tautological wisdom down in my secret journal.

Working within the frame of a self-help book would seem constricting at best, annoying at worst, but Hamid tells a surprisingly moving story and — crucially — a short one. His protagonist is never named, indeed, there aren’t any named people or places in this novel, although Hamid has spoken in interviews of the setting as Pakistan. But the story manages to be both particular and broad at the same time.

The hero — “You” — is a sickly boy who might have been snuffed out, as so many others in his village are, by fever or hepatitis. He and his family live in a single room, cook over a fire and drink from an open sewer. Only by chance is he not “a tiny skeleton in a small grave at the base of a tree.” One in a thousand, he escapes the deadliest risks of extreme poverty when his family crosses over “the yawning gap that exists between countryside and city.” Suddenly, they’re living in a metropolitan area filled with the wonders of electricity and gas-powered cars. Forget New York: If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.

But this is no granular report on what lies behind the beautiful forevers. Hamid’s method is glancing, often ironical. He sketches a “most unequal city” where rich and poor are swept together in “a rising tide of frustration and anger and violence.” Smart and savage when he has to be, the boy thrives in school, starts delivering counterfeit DVDs, then “non-expired-labeled expired-goods” and, finally, bottled (and sometimes filtered) water. “You know quality matters,” the narrator notes, “especially for fakes.”

Nothing we take for granted is in place here to encourage commerce or development. “Rampant nepotism,” bribes and corruption are the rule. Political parties are just rival gangs, assassins ride motorcycles down the crowded streets and terrorists’ bombs randomly rip apart lives and homes without any particular reason.

How quaint the challenges of life in the West seem against the background of this bloody chaos, through which hundreds of millions of people maneuver every day while staring up at American movie stars. Yet Hamid’s tough hero never despairs or complains. He’s young Ben Franklin in Southeast Asia. “I want to be rich,” he tells a friend, and it’s just that simple — a bittersweet echo of the American Dream, exported around the world like bottles of Coca-Cola.

What eventually gives the story such poignancy is the young man’s unquenchable desire for “the pretty girl.” “As far as getting rich is concerned, love can be an impediment,” the narrator warns. “It dampens the fire in the steam furnace of ambition, robbing of essential propulsion an already fraught upriver journey to the heart of financial success.”

And yet, once the boy spots the pretty girl, he’s permanently smitten — all through his filthy rise. Worldly and sexually daring, she’s on a much faster track, swept up in fashion and showbiz. “As with the sun,” the narrator notes, “you have always found it difficult to gaze upon her directly.”

As the novel grows more melancholy, its ironic humor sloughs off, and we’re left with a tender love affair between two tired, old people, an antidote to that desperate desire for financial gain. This deadly Asian story of how to succeed in business while really trying finally delivers You to a very different place than he set out to reach decades earlier. Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising. After all, as the narrator tries to help us understand in the opening pages, “The idea of self in the land of self-help is a slippery one.”

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid: review
By Edmund Gordon
The Guardian
22 Mar 2013

Self-help books, much like horoscopes, deal in generalities. They pare their subjects down to the lowest common denominator. The whole self-help genre is based on a shameless confidence trick: that the “you” being addressed is singular, when of course it can only be plural, and might not even include you (singular). Exactly the same advice – on how to conquer your fears, or spice up your marriage, or stop smoking – is given to millions of readers whose fears, marriages and tobacco habits are presumably nothing like one another’s.

This ought to make self-help books antithetical to ambitious works of fiction, which tend to deal in specifics – even if they hope to touch on universal truths. But Mohsin Hamid is one of the most talented and formally audacious writers of his generation, and his electrifying new novel, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, successfully (if satirically) follows, in its structure and in the voice of its narrator, the self-help format.

It is divided into 12 chapters, each containing a single lesson of broad applicability: Move to the City; Get an Education; Don’t Fall in Love; Avoid Idealists; Learn from a Master; Work for Yourself; Be Prepared to Use Violence; Befriend a Bureaucrat; Patronise the Artists of War; Dance with Debt; Focus on the Fundamentals; and Have an Exit Strategy. None of the characters have names, but are referred to in almost archetypal terms (“the politician”; “the pretty girl”); the implication is that there are, or at least could be, people just like them in everybody’s life. The hero is “you”.

This conceit proves an excellent way of approaching an aspirational society, and of suggesting that aspiration is a fundamental part of human nature. It allows Hamid to implicitly pair the trajectory of his hero’s life with the trajectories of millions of other lives. But the novel is also a distinctive coming-of-age story about a specific person – and a love story, too.

It takes place in an unnamed Asian city, which is “enormous, home to more people than half the countries in the world, to whom every few weeks is added a population equivalent to that of a small, sandy-beached, tropical island republic”. It is a city populated by slick, designer-clad entrepreneurs and heavily bearded religious fundamentalists, but also by hash-smoking heavy metal fans, haughty beauticians and paranoid private investigators; a city in which it is easier for a cancer patient to buy street heroin than to obtain prescription drugs, and where teachers long to become electricity meter readers, since the latter “have greater opportunity for corruption and are hence both better off and held in higher regard by society”. It might be Lahore, but across rising Asia, there must be many cities like it.

Hamid has already staked out this fast-changing world as his literary territory. His first novel, Moth Smoke (2000), is the riches-to-rags story of Daru Shezad, a Pakistani financier, who descends through the circles of Lahore society when he loses his job, falls in love with his best friend’s wife, and becomes addicted to heroin. The novel was widely acclaimed as the first fictional portrait of a new, vibrant, grungy Pakistan: a far cry from the genteel poeticism of much South Asian literature.

In his Man Booker Prize-shortlisted second novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007), Hamid turned his attention to the changing relationship – before and after 9/11 – between this new Pakistan and the West. The novel is narrated by a Princeton graduate originally from Lahore, who once worked for a high-powered consultancy firm in New York; he addresses his story, in a kind of dramatic monologue, to an American man who may be a tourist, but on the other hand might be a CIA agent come to rendition him, since his decision to leave his job and return to Lahore has aroused suspicion.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is brilliantly structured and is written in a prose style of lapidary beauty; it was a massive international hit, and established Hamid as one of the most auspicious new voices in world literature. (A film adaptation is being released in May.)

Changez, the narrator of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, comes from a privileged background (his father is a lawyer), but he is conscious of the shifting class structures of his society: his family looks “with a mixture of disdain and envy upon the rising class of entrepreneurs – owners of businesses legal and illegal – who power through the streets in their BMW SUVs”. It is this “rising class” that is the subject of Hamid’s new novel.

“You” are born in rural poverty, in a compound where food is cooked over a fire and water is drunk slightly upstream of the same channel used for washing and sewage, but your family soon moves to the city in search of better opportunities.

You find after-school work delivering pirated DVDs on your bicycle, and through your job you meet the pretty girl, an aspiring actress who wants to learn more about films. She seduces you, and being the sort of man who believes that “the first woman you make love to should also be the last” you are smitten. But she soon leaves the neighbourhood with a producer who tells her he can help her career.

Because you are the youngest child, you are able to finish school (your brother is sent out to work and your sister is married off) and, being clever, you obtain a scholarship to the university. There you join a “political organisation” (which seems more like a religious organisation), in order to secure some influence for yourself. But you realise that if you are ever to re-enter the pretty girl’s orbit – she is now a successful model, her face visible on billboards all around the city – you will have to make some money.

You find a job selling expired goods to small vendors, before setting up your own business: bottling boiled water and selling it on as mineral water. This grows and grows until you are filthy rich. The pretty girl eventually comes back into your life; but the path to true happiness, the novel suggests, can’t be dictated by a 12-point plan.

The second person voice allows Hamid to move around his hero’s life – and sometimes to move away from it altogether – much more nimbly than would be possible in a traditional first- or third-person narrative. The self-help device also allows him to dispense nuggets of genuine wisdom: love “dampens the fire in the steam-furnace of ambition”; nepotism “is not restricted to swaggering about in its crudest, give-my-son-what-he-wants form. It frequently assumes more cunning guises, attire, for example, or accent.”

If the conceit is ultimately a bit gimmicky, Hamid’s style rescues it from becoming irritating. His sentences have a beguiling formality, but are always underscored by warmth and wit. The novel is filled with crisp images: after a riot, “broken glass and bits of rubble rest like five o’clock shadow on the city’s smooth concrete”.

Minor characters are picked out with wonderful precision: the “overweight and therefore clearly prosperous vegetable farmer whose clan has recently made the first of a lucrative series of sales of their communal land to a refrigerator assembly plant looking to expand its warehousing space” or the “cocaine-snorting man-child too chronically insecure to appear in his father’s head office much earlier than 11 or to stay much later than three, prone to picking up teenage girls at parties in his muscular European limousine and to sobbing unpredictably when drunk”.

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is a vital and affecting portrait of a teeming and globally significant, but largely unrecorded culture. It is a bold formal experiment contained within an elegant novella. It is moving and charming and funny. When you reach the end, you want to go straight back to the beginning. And yes – that does mean you.
  meadcl | Mar 30, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 63 (next | show all)
It’s a love story and a study of seismic social change. It parodies a get-rich-quick book and gestures to a new direction for the novel, all in prose so pure and purposeful it passes straight into the bloodstream. It intoxicates.
added by zhejw | editNew York Times, Parul Sehgal (Mar 29, 2013)
Novelist Mohsin Hamid lives in Lahore, Pakistan, quite some distance from the Long Island of Jay Gatsby. But his new novel — his third and, I think, best so far — reminded me of F. Scott Fitzgerald's quintessential American work. As I read this novel about the dark and light of success in a world of social instability, I kept asking myself how much I might be inflating the value of Hamid's novel by rating it so highly. After all, this story takes the form of a gimmick, and gimmicks usually work against real quality....

[T]his tale of an unscrupulous striver may bring to mind a globalized version of The Great Gatsby. Given the unabashed gimmickry of Hamid's how-to design, it's a pleasant surprise to find that his book is nearly that good.
added by zhejw | editNPR, Alan Cheuse (Feb 27, 2013)
Mohsin Hamid’s audacious novels have changed the way we see Pakistan. His electrifying new work is his most impressive yet... But Mohsin Hamid is one of the most talented and formally audacious writers of his generation, and his electrifying new novel, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, successfully (if satirically) follows, in its structure and in the voice of its narrator, the self-help format.
In this one he essays a touching love story between the protagonist and a beautiful village girl who uses her physical attributes to build her own wealth. But love is a luxury in conditions of economic struggle. The pair remain tantalisingly estranged for much of the book, only finding each other when – tellingly – they abandon their material ambitions.

If Hamid set out to write a satire on the globalised dream of consumer-driven economic development, he ends up being undermined by the strength of his characters. You can't help but root for them in their perilous climb out of the mire of penury, while all the time being relieved that you are not really "you".
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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
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"[A] tale of a man's journey from impoverished rural boy to corporate tycoon, [stealing] its shape from the business self-help books devoured by ambitious youths all over 'rising Asia'"--Dust jacket flap.

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