Friday 29 March 2013

How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia / Mohsin Hamid

How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia, by Mohsin Hamid, is much concerned with communion between the writer, and the reader: Like all books, this self-help book is a co-creative project…It’s in being read that a book becomes a book, and in each of a million different readings a book becomes one of a million different books…”  

Fine. But does that deny that an author has in her mind, when she writes, some meaning she intends to convey to her readers? Can readers misinterpret those meanings?  If I had read How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia as a guide to getting on  in the world, and not as, in part, a commentary on  both guides to getting on in the world, and also the whole idea of getting on in the world, would Mohsin Hamid have had a right to irritation?

How interesting you find such questions will probably partly determine how much you enjoy How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia, as will how you feel about the fact that Hamid asks you, the reader, to participate in his novel as “you”, his unnamed main character, even though you are no freer to invent “your” biography than you are to interpret How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia as a self-help book, since Hamid has done (most of) the inventing for you.

You are born dirt poor somewhere in rural “rising Asia.” (Where’s that?) As a youth you hanker after both love and money, though the self-help  guide you're following / that's following you  advises that if you want filthy riches, then don’t fall in love. Nevertheless, you tumble. Your heart’s target is  “the pretty girl”, and once you’ve seen her, your two stories begin a life-long intermingling. Your target remains, to you, “the pretty girl”, even as she ages. When you look at her in early middle age: “What you see is a woman little changed by the years, not, obviously, because this is true, your first meeting having been half your lifetimes ago, but rather because your image of her is not entirely determined by her physical reality.” Eventually, you marry another woman, one you cannot really see, so filled is your vision by the pretty girl, and with whom you have a son: “Fatherhood has taught you the lesson that, even in middle age, love is practicable. It is possible to adore those newly come into your world, to envision, no matter how late in the day, a happily entwined future with those who have not been part of your past.” 

On the financial side, you scam, cheat, bribe, and batter your way to riches. In old age you yourself are cheated, and you descend from the top of the money tree somewhere back towards its middle.

How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia is challenging, playful, serious, knowing, argumentative, upsetting and wonderful. It’s political, angry about the conditions of the world’s poor, and it’s deft and touching in its treatment of the personal.  It’s filled with sentences that demand rereading, as does the whole novel. I loved it.

How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia is published in the US by Riverhead Books, and in the UK by Hamish Hamilton. Depending where you are, you will probably find both editions available in Asia – though of course more readily available in risen Asia, than in either rising Asia, or in sinking Asia.   It is available as an e-book.

UK edition
US edition
 If you have read How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia, please post with your opinions.