Shortcut to Success
Five years after The Reluctant Fundamentalist was published, Mohsin Hamid returns with his latest offering, ‘How to get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia,’ a funny title that had many young hopefuls asking: “So is it like a guide that tells you how to get filthy rich?”
Hamid is an author that many have a love-hate relationship with. As Tazeen Javed, who blogs at A Reluctant Mind, writes, “I found his first book rather ordinary. Hamid was descriptive in Moth Smoke and his protagonist was odious, obsessive and had no redeeming qualities. He became introspective in The Reluctant Fundamentalist; the tone was improved greatly and the monologue in which the novella was written dominated the reader in such a way that it required great effort to see beyond the protagonist’s point of view. With ‘How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia’ Hamid presented his readers with prose that is beautiful, lyrical and profound.”
The protagonist is a young man whose rise and fall in Asia is documented through these steps. He could be you or me; indeed this novel is everyone’s story about survival, be it in the village or city, in business, in love or in life.
Hamid’s writing is entirely in second person, a device that is reminiscent of the narrator, Changez, in The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Through this no-name Everyman, Hamid casts a camera’s eye in the small and the large, from the “meaty gully with the slender trickle of water” to “the era of cities, bound by its airport and fibreoptic cables to every great metropolis.” The protagonist starts a bottling water business, built upon a foundation of fraud and lies, much like every other business in the metropolis. Despite his success, the Everyman yearns for the pretty girl he met when he was a teenager and even though he marries another woman, has a son from her and eventually divorces her, he follows the pretty girl’s career from modelling to cooking show host to the owner of a furniture boutique. The longing for a lost love is extremely poignant as marriages of convenience are rampant in this unnamed city where cast, creed and status come into play while choosing a life partner.
Just like the book is structured in twelve steps while trying to make sense of the chaos of story-telling and the relationship between the writer and reader; Hamid’s writing is structured in complex sentences and paragraph-length run-ons. This structured chaos is appealing but could have used tighter editing as the narrative suffers from clunky long sentences that have to be read twice to understand them.
The book is self-aware about its status as a ‘guide’ and tells the reader that this “self-help” tome might just provide the answers one is looking for. It mocks itself as a book and yet is sensitive about its characters and the reader’s emotions.
Hamid’s prose is beautiful and takes the reader on a journey from the putrid depths to the skyscrapers of the city. The author charts his characters’ journeys with sensitivity and love. It makes the reader realize that here we are in this gigantic city, trying to survive amidst pain, destruction and loneliness. We continue to get up in the morning and try to make each day meaningful.
One of my favourite chapters was “Avoid idealists.” As our no-name protagonist enters university, he befriends people from the student wing of a political party on whom he has to rely on to keep his room in the hos-
tel. “What’s true of self-help books is equally and inevitably, true of people. Just as self-help books spouting idealism are best avoided, people doing so should be given wide berths too. These idealists tend to congregate around universities. There they find an amenable environment of young, impressionable, malcontented and ambitious individuals, individuals who, were they legends of yore instead of still-pimply and poor-personal-hygiene sporting men and women in contemporary Asia, would be dashing off to slay dragons and triumph over genies, individuals, in other words, who give corporeal form to the term sucker,” writes Hamid.
As someone who went to a public university, all of the above rings true. University was a space that cultivated idealists, looking for young, energetic youth who are eager to believe in anything and will jump on any bandwag- on to feel part of a cause. And then they turn into twisted, deformed versions of themselves because joining a political party did not really turn out as they had planned. It is indeed a sad sight, this loss of youth for ideals not worth believing in.
Perhaps the best thing that Hamid does is not romanticize Karachi or Lahore like he has done in his previous books – a common tendency among most Pakistani English authors. Instead he talks about the city as a mythological space “which intrudes in the form of power and gas outages, traffic noises and airborne particulates that cause you to wake wheezing in your bed. It can be glimpsed around curtains and through iron grilles. Television and radio also bring in some news of it, usually frightening, but then that has always been the case.” We are a part of the city and the city encroaches upon our dreams in our attempts to make them a reality.
With How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, Hamid has found a perfect balance of an engaging narrative and characters that one can genuinely care for. Throughout the book, readers will find themselves drawing parallels with the characters’ real life counterparts. That is the genius of this work, that though the characters are unnamed you will find someone who you can relate to. The second-person narrative blurs the lines between the writer and reader, and there are times when you feel that the book and you are simply in conversation. For achieving such a momentary illusion, Hamid deserves an accolade. How to get Filthy Rich is definitely one of the better books to have come out in 2013.
Title: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia Author: Mohsin Hamid Publisher: Riverhead Books (March 2013) Pages: 228, Hardback Price: PKR 2859 ISBN: 9781594487293