How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia saw extensive promotions and pre-publicity hype well before its release date. The Karachi Literature Festival 2013 in February where author Mohsin Hamid participated as one of the speakers, too, was effervescent with buzz surrounding his book. An international reviewer called it the globalised version of “The Great Gatsby”. Now the question: did the book do justice to the anticipation? Yes and more.
Mohsin Hamid has undoubtedly a very distinct storytelling style, particularly, because he employs unique literary techniques. Where his predecessor novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, saw a frame story narrative, Hamid has employed the second person in How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia. With no names for his characters, no names for any of the dwellings, virtually no name for the country it is set in, there is an elusive quality to the book, which stays until the very end.
It would be unforgivable to not mention the genre of the book in this review which is self-help, but it is not the conventional type one encounters filled with empathy and laborious instructions on how to live, act and do things a certain way, rather dark and occasionally humourous.
The story is the rising graph of a young boy from poverty to wealth in Asia. It follows his life from the village where he is born to the metropolitan city (anonymous) where he makes his way with family and initially starts a living as a DVD delivery boy. Here, he also meets his inamorata known throughout the book as the “pretty girl”, even when she becomes old and wizened, something, which yours truly finds amusing, and a little disconcerting. Without giving too much of the novel away, the boy and the pretty girl share a rocky relationship, meeting and separating several times.
Interestingly, the boy’s father, who works as a cook, wants for his child a good education. To quote from the book: “He recognised that in the city manliness is caught up in education”. It is incredible how Hamid has portrayed rural folk as progressive individuals who acknowledge the importance of education in the current age and that it is one of the biggest steps towards success, and perhaps towards becoming filthy rich in rising Asia.
The protagonist goes through swift transitions where occupation is concerned. From a DVD delivery boy, to being a university student, to a young man re-labelling and selling expired canned food, to the final leap as an entrepreneur into a bottled water business, which also marks his foray into wealth, he definitely has a voluminous résumé to his credit. Yet, none of this seems displaced.
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia reads easily, despite the second person narrative. The prose is intelligent and Hamid dispassionately assesses the stark divide between rural and city life. The most endearing aspect of the book for this scribe is that the protagonist, despite facing several predicaments, does not appear to be pitiful. Even his ultimate demise is as natural as his rise.
The reviewer is a Multimedia Content Producer at Dawn.com and considers books her best friends. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org