I have been a big Mohsin Hamid fan ever since I read The Reluctant Fundamentalist last summer. In that book I was intrigued by his use of the second person address, even though the main narrator was an ‘I’ voice, and in this most recent book he uses the same tool to equal success. This review contains mentioned of plot, but I wouldn't go so far to say they are spoilers.
In the guise of a self-help book, How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is actually a love story which spans a lifetime. However, it never feels like simple love story – there is so much more to it than it. It comments wonderfully on the development of Asian countries (he is never specific about which country it is set in but if I were to guess it would either be India or Pakistan as that is where his previous novels have been set) and how this developing effects the lives of those living there. It charts how one individual can work his way through the social classes, from pauper famer to the upper middles classes. Despite its title, I don’t think the main character ever gets truly ‘filthy rich’ but perhaps comparatively from where he began, his is.
Even though this book is in the second person, I never felt like it was about me. Perhaps because I am so far removed from the main character (I am not a strapping young Asian man), or perhaps because a self-help book never feels like it is about you unless it speaks specifically to an aspect or aspiration of yourself. I have no interest in becoming filthy rich, so the book did not speak to me on that. Where it did speak to me was on this idea that you can achieve anything if you set your mind to it and work hard enough at it. It also spoke to me on the nature of love and affection, and how these two can differ from each other as well as running parallel together.
I loved the narrator’s voice in this book – it was the deep and introspective ‘I’ that the book needed to ground it in its genre. It helped the pace of the book feel steady and calm as it transitioned between the years of the main characters life – and I think this book had a more relaxed and leisurely feel to it than most of Hamid’s other books. This isn’t to say it was lacking in drama, action or feeling, but rather that the ‘I’ voice made everything feel very orchestrated rather than unexpected – I really got the sense of an author voice, much more so than The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Moth Smoke, and I felt like there was a being more in control of the narrative than both me and the main character. This is what gave the book its relaxed pacing, and it made the whole reading experience very comforting. The book was self-assured because the writer was.
I really enjoyed this book, and can’t wait for Hamid’s next offering.
How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia was published in 2013 by Hamish Hamilton (Penguin)