Saturday, November 16, 2013

Review of Mohsin Hamid's novel, How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (Riverhead Books/Penguin: 2013)

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising AsiaHow to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

If you haven't read Mohsin Hamid yet, you are in for a master class in structure, from sentence structure to building characters complete with blocks and open doors to an assured yet risky narrative point of view to the very structure of this slyly misnamed novel itself. Hamid astonishes with every new book. I loved The Reluctant Fundamentalist as well but in this novel, the born storyteller provides the gritty details of an impoverished young man's journey as the "clever boy" of a poor man's village family to a city gang member of sorts and then, to a self-made man peddling that most precious commodity, water, to become a very wealthy man at last. Yet he does this not by plodding along from point A to point B but by including the reader, the two main protagonists, the urban sprawl of the city - another character, itself - sweeping from point of view to point of view with great panache and great tenderness for the struggles of humanity.

Hamid weaves the reader (picture yourself on the back of an underpowered, speeding motorcycle somewhere in Asia)through the mean streets of an unnamed city and structures this novel along the lines of a business book, a bestselling one eagerly read by young Asian men, most certainly. His chapter titles reflect the advice pertaining to his main character and to us all: Move to the City (I reflected on this as I've had the same advice for becoming more successful as a writer, i.e., move to Toronto, hang out with the literati, stalk an agent like clammy fiends seem to do, etc. ad nauseum & no thanks, Get An Education (did that but didn't like the straight-jacket jobs available to the likes of me...)Don't Fall in Love (woops, did that, tossing jobs aside, fireworks, etc. too), Avoid Idealists (oh heck, clearly I wasn't destined for wealth as nearly all my best friends are fervent idealists of one stripe or another) Learn From a Master phew, did that one well at least, learning from wonderful masters of writing at a real writing school run by working contemporary writers, Work For Yourself yes! take the risk, go to the wall for another kind of education which is still about being of service, risk the slings & arrows of stupid, mean people and the accolades of kind, wise people and get out alive Be Prepared to Use Violence okay, this option doesn't apply as range wars and bookselling vendettas aren't in the same league as Hamid's protagonist Befriend a Bureaucrat hold your nose, only if you must and there are many good souls among them, ground into a quivering pulp by the demands of John Q. Public and his charming wife, Susie Patronize the Artists of War possibly one of the best chapters in a superlative book of chapters, required reading Dance With Debt been there, done that, didn't like it but some have a higher tolerance of risk than others Focus on the Fundamentals brilliant advice, applicable to those who have lost their wealth or must live on a fixed budget, kind of a Get Smart At Least or At Long Last chapter before Have An Exit Strategy which is where we all must get to in as dignified a manner as we can muster.Hamid's advice can only be described as a compassionate cri de coeur, simply beautiful.

Oh, and it's also a wonderful love story, an eloquent case study of the pros and cons of family nepotism as a society safety net and a brilliant expose of the inner workings of military/industrial/governmental corruption in Asia. Definitely one of my Top 10 Novel recommendations for 2013.

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