How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is Mohsin Hamid’s 3rd book. Like The Reluctant Fundamentalist, it is short, well-paced and innovative. At 200 pages, you could read it in a day. In the second chapter, Hamid promises not to waste your time like the pompous gasbags of “foreign” literature such as Salman Rushdie. OK, he doesn’t mention Rushdie by name, but I know that’s who he meant. HTGFRIRA is addressed to the second person: you are receiving directions from the self-help book you hold in your hand. The device works flawlessly, allowing Hamid to zoom way out to discuss the generic you, then narrow in to your most intimate details. At his best, he does both at the same time.
It’s an instruction manual, so it instructs you, for example, to survive childhood, move to the big city and get schooled. The self-help is for anybody, so you aren’t told which city or which school to head for, which country you’re in, or even what your name is. And it works: there is so much about the book that you can see, taste and smell anywhere in the developing world. Yet he also at the same time is clearly describing Lahore, his beloved city, and Pakistan, Land of the Pure.
The anthropological detachment coupled with laser specificity meshes fantastically, such as when you are to join a student movement. “You attend meetings, read the organization’s literature … members of your organization urge you to … recognize your comrades as your true family, and to act through the organization to fulfill your destiny.” It is obvious that you have joined an Islamic party but it never needs be said, since it, like everything in the book, is of interest only inasmuch as it moves you towards the riches you seek.
You implicitly identify with the unnamed ‘you’ – it’s what we do – but you are a flawed man who has chosen riches as his goal and so your life ends with an unsettling mixture of success and tragedy, for yourself, and for your city, general and specific, as you profit from an industry that has contributed “to a noticeable desiccation of the soil, to a transformation of moist, fertile, hybrid mud into cracked, parched, pure land.”
It wouldn’t be fair to such a short book to poach any more of its lines, so I’ll just urge you to pick it up. The author promises not to waste your time and he doesn’t disappoint you.