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How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

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From the internationally bestselling author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the boldly imagined tale of a poor boy's quest for wealth and love.

His first two novels established Mohsin Hamid as a radically inventive storyteller with his finger on the world's pulse. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia meets that reputation, and exceeds it. the astonishing and riveting tale of a man's journey from impoverished rural boy to corporate tycoon, it steals its shape from the business self-help books devoured by ambitious youths all over "rising Asia." It follows its nameless hero to the sprawling metropolis where he begins to amass an empire built on that most fluid, and increasingly scarce, of goods: water. Yet his heart remains set on something else, on the pretty girl whose star rises along with his, their paths crossing and recrossing, a lifelong affair sparked and snuffed and sparked again by the forces that careen their fates along.

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is a striking slice of contemporary life at a time of crushing upheaval. Romantic without being sentimental, political without being didactic, and spiritual without being religious, it brings an unflinching gaze to the violence and hopes it depicts. And it creates two unforgettable characters who find moments of transcendent intimacy in the midst of shattering change.

230 pages, Hardcover

First published March 1, 2013

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About the author

Mohsin Hamid

25 books3,694 followers
Mohsin Hamid is the author of four novels, Moth Smoke , The Reluctant Fundamentalist , How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia , and Exit West , and a book of essays, Discontent and Its Civilizations .

His writing has been featured on bestseller lists, adapted for the cinema, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, selected as winner or finalist of twenty awards, and translated into thirty-five languages.

Born in Lahore, he has spent about half his life there and much of the rest in London, New York, and California.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,657 reviews
Profile Image for Dan.
227 reviews132 followers
June 11, 2014
As soon as I started this book, I knew I was going to hate it. The second-person was constantly grating, the "self-help" introductions to each chapter flippant and vaguely insulting. What shoddy gimmicks! Not to mention, I'd seen this story before: Kid grows up in a poor village, pulls himself out of the gutter, falls in love, ends up with all the trophies. That's a staple storyline I'd read ten times since last Tuesday. But, alas: I was trapped on an airplane, the book was short, and I couldn't seem to sleep.

Luckily, the story moved fast and the spare prose was admirably consistent and readable. The bizarre second-person became more comfortable, the "self-help" paragraphs still kitschy but less jarring. I just couldn't escape the feeling that it was going nowhere. If nothing else, I told myself, I had one more book against the reading challenge.

The tears caught me by surprise. It's hard to start crying on an airplane, with so many people so close. People invading personal bubbles; playing Monster Truck Rally on their tablets; coughing, sneezing, snoring. Yet, here I was, probably the only one on the plane to fit in the category "sobbing". What had just happened?

By the last page, there's no question -- Hamid is a master, and manipulated the novel's structure to leave you utterly vulnerable, disarmed. The gimmicks I had dismissed were my own undoing, and the variety of emotions that poured down during the final chapters brought out memories and feelings I was unprepared to handle, especially at 30,000 feet. If the plane had landed at the same time I closed the book, I might have jumped to the front of the line to buy a ticket home that very evening, taking the red-eye back for one more hug from those close to me.

This short novel packed the biggest emotional punch of anything I've read this year. I was shocked by how decisively my expectations were demolished, how effortlessly it captivated, enlightened, and loved. There is a great deal to unpack here -- you'll re-examine your job, your family... security... environment... government... it's a cacophony of little punches. If you've ever made a hard choice about your future -- if you've ever worked too hard, loved too long, or missed too much -- this book will mean something to you.
Profile Image for jordan.
190 reviews45 followers
April 8, 2013
You are considering buying a work by Mohsin Hamid. Something about the length and odd construction of the title puts you off. And then there on the cover is that goldfish -- what is up with the goldfish? So you are no doubt thinking to yourself, should I buy this novel, "How To Get Filthy Rich In Asia"? Is it a novel for you?

Such decisions can be difficult. On the plus side, the work isn't very long and the page on Amazon does just ooze positive reviews. And on the negative side? Well the idea of a novel written as a self-help book seems off putting. I know. And likely not being in Rising Asia, how concerned are you really about how to get Filthy Rich should you find yourself there?

So let me put your mind at ease. Yes, Hamid writes from a perspective best described as unusual. He constructed his brilliant second novel, "The Reluctant Fundamentalist," as one side of a conversation in a cafe between a Fundamentalist Muslim who has in the West found material success and the darker side of the American Dream and a stranger who may or may not be a CIA agent. Oh, and the narrator may or may not be violent and interested in doing that stranger -- continually and disturbingly referred to as "you" as if the reader -- real harm. Sound interesting? You'll just have to trust me, it was an extraordinary read.

As for "How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia," the novel's construction may seem odder still. Written in the second person and constructed as a mock self help book, the narrative follows an unnamed boy in an unnamed country as he pursues wealth in his unnamed city. Despite the failure to name the location, you may well conclude pretty quickly that it is somewhere on the subcontinent. While letting this structure carry you away may take a dozen pages or so, you can take my word that soon enough you will find yourself carried away by Hamid's smooth prose, his disarming sense of humor, and his preternatural ability to individualize characters who he rather brutally fails even to name.

Oh, and did I mention to you the other excellent components of the narrative? Family strife. Violence. A romance. A look at the dark underbelly of corruption in much of the world? Bottled water? So why should you buy "How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia"? Because it is sure to be one of the year's finest novels and you don't want to find yourself at a party forced to lie when all your friends are discussing its excellence.

Yes, it is that good. So why don't you add it to your cart already?
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,396 followers
May 31, 2013
”…when you read a book, what you see are black squiggles on pulped wood or, increasingly, dark pixels on a pale screen. To transform these icons into characters and events, you must imagine. And when you imagine, you create. It’s in being read that a book becomes a book…”

One feels a part of this story, the way Mohsin Hamid tells it. There is an immediacy and directness to his second-person narrative that entirely works in involving the reader. This book began to get widespread attention before it was even published, but not one of the reviews and interviews gave me a sense of the exhilaration I felt while reading. For one thing, I had the sense that the author threw out more than he put in—it is not a big book in terms of words. But the author’s daring use of language, structure, second-person narrative, character and plot involved the reader to a great extent, and we are complicit in outcomes. We recognize and validate the characters.

Spare and propulsive, this is the story of a young man growing up in a large South Asian city:
”Your city is enormous, home to more people than half the countries in the world, to whom every few weeks is added a population equivalent to that of a small, sandy-beached tropical island republic…A limited access road is under construction around the place, forming a belt past which its urban belly is already beginning to bulge…Your bus barrels along in the shadow of these monuments, dusty new arteries feeding this city, which despite its immensity is only one among many such organs quivering in the torso of rising Asia.”

The young man of the story has the wild uninhibited entrepreneurial energy that is forced upon bright young things struggling to find a way to live in a place of too many with too little. Innovate, or die.
“You have used the contacts with retailers you forged during your years as a non-expired-labeled expired-goods salesman to enter the bottled-water trade. Your city’s neglected pipes are cracking, the contents of underground water mains and sewers mingling, with the result that taps in locales rich and poor alike disgorge liquids that, while for the most part clear and often odorless, reliably contain trace levels of feces and microorganisms capable of causing diarrhea, hepatitis, dysentery, and typhoid. Those less well-off among the citizenry harden their immune systems by drinking freely, sometimes suffering losses in the process, especially of their young and their frail. Those more well-off have switched to bottled water, which you and your two employees are eager to provide.”

We watch as our entrepreneur grows his business, losing members of his family along the way, all the while we are keenly aware of the language that carries a lilt even in its exquisite fluency: “…emotionally you stagger about this new reality like a sailor returned to land after decades at sea.”

Moments of business success are punctuated with reminders of its mixed blessings: “As you drive off under a beautiful, orange, polluted sky, riding high in your SUV above lesser hatchbacks and motorcycles, you start to hum…Below your feet is the ever-dropping aquifer, punctured by thousands upon thousands of greedily sipping machine-powered steel straws.”

This book thrilled and energized me, and gives me infinite hope for the future while at the same time giving pause:
“…Meeting with a keen young repairman arrived to fix your telephone connection, or speaking with a knowledgeable young woman behind the counter of a pharmacy, you are pricked by a lingering optimism, and you marvel at the resilience and potential of those around you, particularly of the youth in this city, in this, the era of cities, bound by its airport and fiber-optic cables to every great metropolis, collectively forming, even if tenuously, a change-scented urban archipelago spanning not just rising Asia but the entire planet…But what you [also] sense, what is unmistakable, is a rising tide of frustration and anger and violence, born partly of the greater familiarity the poor today have with the rich, their faces pressed to that clear window on wealth afforded by ubiquitous television, and partly the change in mentality that results from the outward shift in the supply curve for firearms.”

I really loved this book. I loved its humanity and I loved its involving me in the human drama unfolding, for I am involved, I am responsible, this is my world, too, and Hamid makes me feel these are people just like me who live elsewhere in different conditions. I thank the author for bringing this home with such sophistication and style.
“As you create this story and I create this story, I would like to ask you how things were. I would like to ask you about the person who held your hand when dust entered your eye or ran with you from the rain. I would like to tarry here awhile with you, or if tarrying is impossible, to transcend my here, with your permission, in your creation, so tantalizing to me, and so unknown. That I can do this doesn’t stop me from imagining it. And how strange that when I imagine, I feel. The capacity for empathy is a funny thing.”

A word must really be said about the hardcover production of this book by Riverhead Publishing, a division of Penguin: it is a very beautiful book. I wonder if, in this age of digital publishing, publishers are taking more time to create exquisite paper objects or if I am just noticing now after a few years of wrangling with digital readers. But I submit that some books are more gorgeous than others, and this particular hardcover has clear type with plenty of white space marching over creamy pages. It is a Rolls Royce reading experience. Thanks to Riverhead for showing me that there really is a difference in print copies.
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 117 books156k followers
September 21, 2012
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia has a lot going on. There are two books in this novel--one that is eminently successful and one that is not.

The narrative frame here is that of a self help book on getting filthy rich in rising asia. The entire novel is told in the second person with a narrator telling the you, or the novel's protagonist how to achieve such wealth. The problem is that the first 300 words or so of each chapter are completely different in tone from the rest of each chapter. There are desperately atonal moments like in sentences like, "Its typical mode of transmission is fecal-oral. Yum." The Yum has literally driven me to distraction for about twenty hours. It doesn't work and it absolutely weakens the prose around it. Throughout the book there are these missteps that really pull the reader away from otherwise excellent writing. The self-help, vaguely satirical prose at the beginning of each chapter is too forced and it just doesn't work. I really want to ask Hamid why this frame? Because it's too heavy handed. What he's trying to convey through these sections is deftly conveyed through the rest of each chapter. This novel would be 5 stars if that strained narrative frame disappeared.

The thing about great books though is that they allow for flaws, so while this problematic narrative frame is significant, the merits of the book absolutely compensate for the weaknesses. The novel is sweeping, telling a man's entire life from poverty in his rural village to the sprawling city slums to achieving staggering wealth. This is a novel about where you come from and how your roots never really leave you and how life is, very often, a very cyclical thing.

The sense of place throughout How to Get Filthy is richly drawn with the smells and sights and the din of an overcrowded rising Asia city. This is also a book that tackles the socioeconomic complexities of Rising Asia with it's growing upper and middle classes and the consequences of that mobility.

How to Get Filthy Rich is also a love story and an intriguing one between this good, hardworking man who gives his heart to the first girl he loves and the ambitious pretty girl who doesn't want to be held back by her heart. There are absolutely gorgeous, evocative moments and such uniquely plaintive longing.

This is a slim but ambitious novel and when that ambition is met, this novel soars.
Profile Image for Jill.
346 reviews335 followers
July 25, 2014
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is the best book I��ve read this year because it made me think and then it made me cry. For a book with such a coarsely straightforward title, it’s remarkably beautiful; a love story (in a book whose third chapter title instructs: “Don’t Fall in Love”) about the power of connections between people.

That sounds rather trite, non? Yet this book made it seem like the most novel idea in the world. Mohsin Hamid chooses to write his simple story under the guise of a self-help book. We readers are addressed as “you” but “you” is also the main character, an Asian male we follow from birth to death as he becomes filthy rich. It’s an inventive method of narration that will likely fail for many people, but I found it inspired in the way it both separates and unites the reader and protagonist. As both the protagonist and an outsider, we can observe the protagonist’s failures with the detachment of someone who knows better, all the while suffering, and occasionally rejoicing, alongside him. We are complicit in his choices and thus, after reading, we feel compelled to evaluate our own choices.

In tone, it reminded me of Kazuo Ishiguro’s masterpiece The Remains of the Day. Both novels feature men who devote their lives to an occupation and realize, too late, the unworthiness of their chosen lives. Hamid’s writing is less formal though no less moving. It’s clever—
Is getting filthy rich still your goal above all goals, your be-all and end-all, the mist-shrouded high-altitude spawning pond to your inner salmon?
And beautiful—
He whispers a benediction and breathes it into the air, spreading his hopes for you with a contraction of the lungs.
He uses lots of appositives to pack complex asides into otherwise short and simple sentences. It’s masterful, simply some of the best writing I’ve ever read.

Hamid also has the most fascinating things to say about the relationship between a writer and a reader and the importance of writing and reading to our lives. Do you read this and nod so deeply your skull grazes the nape of your neck?
…When you read a book, what you see are black squiggles on pulped wood or, increasingly, dark pixels on a pale screen. To transform these icons into characters and events, you must imagine. And when you imagine, you create. 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, just as an egg becomes one of potentially a million different people when it’s approached by a hard-swimming and frisky school of sperm.
I do. He just gets it. He profoundly understands the importance of stories to our every day lives:
We are all refugees from our childhoods. And so we turn, among other things, to stories. To write a story, to read a story, is to be a refugee from the state of refugees. Writers and readers seek a solution to the problem that time passes, that those who have gone are gone and those who will go, which is to say every one of us, will go. For there was a moment when anything was possible. And there will be a moment when nothing is possible. But in between we can create.
He accomplishes so much in so few pages, poking the most thoughtful parts of my brain and pushing me to change the way I approach life. Before reading How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia I would see all the people around me and feel crushed that their stories will never be told, that upon death their stories will dissipate into the air like the morning dew rising from their graves. Mohsin Hamid reminded me that everyone has a story that should be remembered. He made me want to travel the world with a butterfly net collecting stories so that peoples’ lives—peoples’ immense and tragic and brilliant lives—do not die with them. He made me realize that empathy is not only the fruitful consequence of good literature but also the motor of the human spirit.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,862 reviews1,897 followers
September 10, 2017
Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: His first two novels established Mohsin Hamid as a radically inventive storyteller with his finger on the world’s pulse. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia meets that reputation and exceeds it. The astonishing and riveting tale of a man’s journey from impoverished rural boy to corporate tycoon, it steals its shape from the business self-help books devoured by ambitious youths all over “rising Asia.” It follows its nameless hero to the sprawling metropolis where he begins to amass an empire built on that most fluid, and increasingly scarce, of goods: water. Yet his heart remains set on something else: on the pretty girl whose star rises along with his, their paths crossing and recrossing, a lifelong affair sparked and snuffed and sparked again by the forces that careen their fates along.

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is a striking slice of contemporary life at a time of crushing upheaval. Romantic without being sentimental, political without being didactic, and spiritual without being religious, it brings an unflinching gaze to the violence and hope it depicts. And it creates two unforgettable characters who find moments of transcendent intimacy in the midst of shattering change.

My Review: An internationally flavored mash-up of Death of a Salesman and The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit.

I liked both of those stories, and this one too. I got tired of the second-person gag way early, and it took most of a month to read the book because of that.
Profile Image for W.
1,185 reviews4 followers
January 25, 2021
I loved Mohsin Hamid's first book,Moth Smoke. I enjoyed his second book, The Reluctant Fundamentalist,a great deal as well.I read both books mutiple times.I was in awe of his talent and couldn't wait for his next book.

As it is,it takes him several years to write a new book.However,in this case,the wait was not worth it.This book was a major disappointment.

The storyline,poor boy getting rich,is not very original.That said,in this part of the world (South Asia),people do get rich by manipulating corrupt bureaucrats and politicians and exploiting the lax application of laws.

(There are plenty of real life parallels in Pakistan,including one of the richest men in
Pakistan,a real estate tycoon,who started off poor and made his fortune through bribes).

But in terms of storytelling,this book isn't particularly compelling,I struggled to finish it.If anything,it is pretty jarring.

Hamid does try new things.The Reluctant Fundamentalist,was in the form of a monologue,and it worked brilliantly.But in this one,the "self help" format,and the constant use of "you" for the protagonist,was merely annoying.

The story also didn't seem particularly original,to me.It reminded me of Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger.It has similar elements,the protagonist starts off poor,and is unscrupulous,using all means to get ahead to succeed.

Didn't even like the title of this book,it was so ungainly.He is still selling a lot of books,as the success of Exit West shows.But that,to me,was even worse.

Hamid's talent is definitely headed south.I'm glad I've already read his best books.
Profile Image for Melanie.
Author 6 books1,193 followers
May 2, 2013
What a rare, curious bird of a book! I don't think I have ever read anything like this before. A book so unique in its structure, its style and meaning that it shimmers like a lone star somewhere on the horizon. The arc of a life in Rising Asia, the fate of one man, an Everyman, in a developing megalopolis. An impressive tour de force of story-telling which manages to pack so much in so few pages. The power of the book rests mainly in the beauty and grit of its main character but mostly in its writing style. Mohsin Hamid's mix of concision and lyricism reminded me more than once of none other than F. Scott FItzgerald. His ability to infuse his scenes with so much vividness and color was breathtaking. I did shed a tear at the end. A big, fat, grateful, human tear.
Profile Image for Anni.
541 reviews71 followers
July 31, 2018
On the surface, this is the archetypal rags to riches, boy meets girl story, but it is also a vividly honest morality tale and social satire. Written in the second person and historical present, the author draws 'you', the reader, into the unfolding drama, with its pretence of being a motivational 'get-rich' guide. It has the effect of being totally involving, cleverly undermining any preconceptions about the 'otherness' of a foreign culture.
The film is great, too!

Reviewed on www.whichbook.net
Profile Image for Jill.
1,155 reviews1,608 followers
March 27, 2015
So how DO you get filthy rich in rising Asia? Mohsin Hamid’s latest book – masquerades as a how-to manual for success, with chapter headings such as Move to the City, Learn from a Master, and Dance With Debt. Each chapter lasers in on a different socioeconomic level in stratified Pakistan: dirt-poor urchin, up-and-coming entrepreneur, wealthy business owner, and so on.

None of the characters have names. There is “you” (as in “You are a smart kid who grows up in a poor South Asian country, working the corrupt systems to your advantage”), determined to make a fortune in the bottled water business. And there is the “pretty girl” who is his just out of reach soulmate who shares his ambition.

“You” could be everyman in a Pakistan that is going through seismic changes. We (the readers) view a country that is greased by cozying up to the right person, bribing the right bureaucrats, and making sure you have protection. Here in Pakistan, extreme poverty co-exists with the rise of technology, segmenting the country even further.

The overriding question is, “Does all this work?” That’s a question that every reader must answer for herself or himself. For me, the conceits – the self-help framework and the second-person voice – distanced me from the characters in ways that Mr. Hamid’s first two books did not.

I’ll reveal my hand here: I loved Mr. Hamid’s first book, Moth Smoke, a seductive and fast-paced tale of a man fired from his banking job in Lahore, whose lack of connections, combined with the allure of drugs and easy money, doom him. This page-turning book revealed an insider’s look of trying to make it in Pakistan. Ditto for his better-known book, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, narrated by the complex character of Changez, a character who begins to smolder with resentment.

This time, I felt that I was mostly admiring the mastery of an excellent writer – and I do acknowledge that Mr. Hamid is very talented – without the immersion into the character’s lives. I respected what this author was accomplishing without ever feeling particularly invested. Perhaps that says more about this reader than the book, but I was left wanting.

Profile Image for Myriam V.
111 reviews41 followers
November 16, 2022
Escrito en segunda persona, pero no es una novela epistolar ni un poema de amor. Es un libro de autoayuda que te enseñará a volverte rico en caso de que seas un chico pobre de Asia. Pero si no eres un chico pobre, ni vives en Asia, puede servirte igual e interesarte aunque tal vez tampoco quieras volverte rico y creas que los libros de autoayuda no te gustan. Tal vez, sí te gustan y no te diste cuenta.
”¿Por qué, por ejemplo, te empeñas en leer esa novela extranjera tan alabada y tan increíblemente aburrida, y avanzas a duras penas a través de páginas y más páginas (por favor, que se acaben) de una prosa alquitranada y morosa y de un engreimiento formal que te hace sonrojarte, sino movido por un anhelo impulsivo de conocer tierras lejanas que, a causa de la globalización, cada día afectan más la vida de la tierra donde habitas? ¿Qué es ese impulso tuyo, en el fondo, sino un deseo de autoayuda? “

Aparte de libro de autoayuda es una novela sobre un chico que intenta salir de la pobreza y su historia está contada sin recurrir a sentimentalismos ni dramatismos. Es un relato con un formato original y un humor inteligente. Es una historia de vida con la simplicidad y complicaciones que tiene cualquier vida y con la singularidad que tiene cada una. Me encantó.
Profile Image for Antonomasia.
972 reviews1,194 followers
December 29, 2014
Even the presentation of the British edition is brilliant, with its big brash lettering like real financial self-help books: The Richest Man in Babylon, The Millionaire Next Door, and especially, right down to the colours and the italic typeface, Rich Dad, Poor Dad . The font inside is familiar from this sort of thing too; I don't know its name but it's definitely not one I associate with literary novels for grown-ups. The only thing obviously missing in satirical design terms is a contents page listing Hamid's 12 carefully named chapters.

The self-help book conceit does partly collapse within the narrative in order to accommodate descriptions, reversals and dialogue. Occasionally near the start I wished for a really good novel that more completely satirised and followed the format but in other ways How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is simply so stunning otherwise that I cared about this idea less and less.

It's probably the best novel I can ever remember reading in the second person (haven't found a comprehensive list of them yet to check any I may have forgotten) and one of the best novels I've read published this century (but in those 14 years I probably haven't read as much newly published fiction as during the 4-year period 1993-7).
All I'd hoped for was something to finally show me that there is more to post-colonial literary fiction in English than lots of people imitating Salman Rushdie; reading a chapter or two of many novels in bookshops or libraries had always left me with the impression that this is what it basically all was. I didn't expect to love this so much. Or to be moved to tears more than by anything else I've read since I started using Goodreads. (But the book can also be very funny and I can't help but love something that inserts “but not in a creepy way” into a beautiful, emotional sentence that without it could have been a smidgen too precious.)

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia deals in a sense of spine tingling contemporary history, state-of-the-nation and state-of-the-world which I associate mostly with the great chronicles of British nineteenth century urbanisation and socioeconomic change – a seething environment very similar to that of “rising Asia”. Except that with a narrative which constantly creates a generality via its instructional form, it injects straight into the vertebral column rather than tickling at peripheral nerve endings with possibly-representative characters. And like many Victorian novels, which otherwise almost couldn't be more different stylistically, it has an ever-present awareness of the wheel of fate: of forces and factors and chances and choices which may not always seem much at the time but on which the course of life pivots. (The crucial difference from and critique of self-help books is that not everything depends on the facile “you can do anything if you want it enough / work hard enough.” Indeed, that only applies when larger circumstances are right.) The love story element, which for a while reminded me of Slumdog Millionaire and to a lesser extent of Victorians such as Dickens, started to seem more natural later on; its role is to bring some poetry to the life of a man whose role is "supposed to be" as an example of homo economicus.

The brilliance and wit of descriptions is beyond anything I expected a format like this to produce. I think this book could be particularly powerful for those who like reading history and current affairs books: it combines more factual books' panoramic sense of importance, change and the whirrings of the cogs of fate with an unfussy yet unusual and beautiful form of very self-aware fiction that is also quick to read. Chapter Nine is possibly the most striking, told predominantly through what is seen by myriad information systems, CCTV, security personnel and a drone, creating the sense of a worldwide narrative Borg.

The book has a unique approach to time (unique among anything I've read). Fuck the standard present tense narrative: this protagonist lives his whole life in the present. His childhood takes place amid the trappings of now. He is 30 now, 50, 70 now. The approach almost never seems to fail because if anything is looked back upon it is something universal such as an emotion, not a technology. The only time it is a bit off is sometimes when he is very old in the last chapter or two, when reminiscence and a separation from very recent progress and fashion inevitably almost forms a larger part of his life. And even then being made explicitly aware of his ever-presentness gave me a sense of a multitude of human lives lived in parallel or loosely connected, which I've usually found captured best in songs: 'Tonight We Fly' by The Divine Comedy, The Smiths' 'Rusholme Ruffians' or “No matter where we are, We're always touching by underground wires” from Of Montreal's 'Past is a Grotesque Animal”. (Ideas which always feel most powerful late at night for some reason, which is when I read the end of the book.)

If there may be one major gap here it is religion: the protagonist's belief is pretty much never mentioned; religion (various trappings of Islam) is something that other people around him participate in. Whilst I read quite a lot of American and British self-help books when I was younger (often a waste of time – if you're interested in them as something potentially useful go instead to academic psychology if you even think you might be up to reading some of it; the right stuff can really get to the heart of things). But I've never read a self-help book for the Asian market. So I don't actually know if they would mention religion much if they were hoping, for example, to sell to both Muslims and Hindus and others. I also haven't read Mohsin Hamid's earlier novels – and I probably won't as they don't really appeal to me like this one did – so I don't know what his approach to writing about religion tends to be. If you seek great verisimilitude about the region the low religious content of How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia could be a minus but I can't say I really cared given how wonderful I found this otherwise for its sense of history in the making, portrayal of how huge forces and humans interact, expanding the possibility of second person narrative way beyond anything I'd seen previously, and too many other things it seems superfluous to repeat.
Profile Image for Sharon.
248 reviews101 followers
March 30, 2017
Well hey now Mohsin Hamid. You've got one sexy voice. Thank you for performing your audiobook.

This book lends itself to being read out loud. I'm not a poetry person, but the prose sounded like poetry. Not flowery poetry: more evocative, new age stuff.

Some might find Hamid's writing style gimmicky, but I was on board from the very opening: "Look, unless you're writing one, a self-help book is an oxymoron. You read a self-help book so someone who isn't yourself can help you, that someone being the author." I mean, whoah.

The book--in true "self-help" style--addresses you, the reader, as the main character in the novel (for all you geeks out there, the second-person omniscient. Boom.) It is, in essence, a simple story told in a very experimental way: a young boy in an unnamed country grows up in poverty and takes steps over the course of his life to ... well ... you know ... become filthy rich ... [shuffles feet] in rising Asia (I hope Hamid doesn't troll Goodreads looking for groundbreaking reviews of his work). We are invited through the self-help construct to picture ourselves as the young boy. Chapter titles instruct us to: 1) Move to the City 2) Get an Education 3) Work For Yourself, etc. etc., and as the chapters progress, the boy (you) ages and experiences momentous life events (none of which I'll mention in the interest of keeping this spoiler-free).

If the second-person omniscient sounds confusing, it's because I am not Mohsin Hamid. It totally works. It was effective in 1) drawing me in 2) making me feel more invested in the story (cause hey! That guy could be me! My life could suck like the poor boy shivering in the streets!) and 3) making me feel that maybe there was a lesson to be learned at the end of the story, or--even better--I could stand to make a buck or two.

This was one of those reads that made me remember why I love to read. One that made me want to bow down to Hamid (I had similar feelings reading Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin and Yann Martel's Life of Pi). I read Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist years ago (also experimental in style, very bold in subject matter, and deliciously ambiguous--read Leo's excellent review for more on that book), but never revisited the author, even with his latest work Exit West recently blanketing my Goodreads feed. I'm glad I finally did, as I'm now a fan.

At just over 200 pages, I'd recommend this story to all. It is a love story, an observation of life in Pakistan (I googled this; Hamid fesses up as to where the story takes place), and yes, in the end--like the self-help section of your bookstore promises--a source of invaluable wisdom.
Profile Image for Malia.
Author 6 books547 followers
August 10, 2019
As with Mohsin Hamid's other books, I am conflicted with this one. On the one had, it's clever, well written and thought-provoking, on the other hand, the characters - even as the reader is thrust into their most intimate moments - feel distant, hazy figures, with whom I couldn't quite connect, even as I was intrigued by their story. They are caricatures, which I think is the intention, but it doesn't make for a wholly satisfying read. That being said, I also don't think I'll be forgetting this one anytime soon.

Find more reviews and bookish fun at http://www.princessandpen.com
Profile Image for Oriana.
Author 2 books3,260 followers
August 3, 2013
Meh. It's a cool idea -- write a novel framed as a self-help book -- but the execution is strange. The book is written to "you," as in "you are reading this book about how to get filthy rich and I will tell you how to do it," but then "you" is also one the main characters in the novel, so unless you (the reader) are actually a young Indian (? or maybe Asian?) boy, this causes a bit of dissonance. Also the langage and pacing and tone don't really fit a self-help book -- not that you'd want them to, because that would make a lousy novel. But again: dissonance.

The novel itself is somewhat compelling, but also a bit bleak. It's told in very stripped, matter-of-fact language, which is almost brutal in its mundane treatment of things like sickness and death. It's also told at a firm remove, with most of the emotion flattened and edited out, which is a stylistic choice I always find somewhat off-putting.

And yet... the characters are very strong, and the story is solid, and the ending was extremely well done, sorrowful but a little bit uplifting, though not so much as to be corny. So even though I was put off in the beginning and kind of bored in the middle, the redemptive final section left me feeling overall unsorry I persevered.
Profile Image for Elaine.
776 reviews358 followers
April 29, 2017
A short review - as I'm behind - but this book surprised me with its power. Laugh out loud funny in parts, it also ends up being strikingly moving as we follow the hero from childhood to extreme old age. I thought the conceit of the "self-help book" and using the 2nd person voice(!) to narrate the novel would grow tiresome, but Hamid handles it deftly and only occasionally does the structure feel overly contrived.

A quick and very worthwhile read.
Profile Image for Anum S..
95 reviews428 followers
January 23, 2021
This book is a self-help book. Its objective, as it says on the cover, is to show you how to get filthy rich in rising Asia. And to do that it has to find you, huddled, shivering, on the packed earth under your mother’s cot one cold, dewy morning.

Mohsin Hamid is one of those writers who gets better at every re-read. I’m not really sure if that’s a compliment or not, given that not many people find themselves inclined to go back to books they didn’t love in the first place. The only reason I went back to Moth Smoke was because I hadn’t reviewed it the first time around, and it’s the same with this book. If I hadn’t had this compelling reason, I might never have opened any of Hamid’s works again, and might have missed the opportunity to enjoy it more fully. And while one could make an argument for there being too many books on our To-Read list to bother with ones we’ve already read and discarded, I’d say that some books get better as you get older, so that the things teenage-you didn’t enjoy suddenly become much more nuanced.

Written in twelve parts, this particular story is written as a self-help guide, where you, the reader, are also the protagonist. You travel from your father’s village to the metropolitan city, all the visual and auditory references clearly meant to mark it as an example of rural to urban migration in Pakistan. There you experience Pakistan’s ridiculous public education system, join a religious organization in your university, and eventually become a rich if corrupt owner of a shady water bottling company. Unfortunately, since the book is written at a distance, there’s none of the introspective questioning over morality that I wanted to read about. In fact, it feels like we experience a chunk of the story without actually establishing any emotional connection at all, which is one of the most major letdowns of the whole endeavor.

“The fruits of labor are delicious, but individually they’re not particularly fattening. So don’t share yours, and munch on those of others whenever you can.”

I’d be the first to point out that Hamid’s writing feels very contrived most of the times. With almost all his books, you are constantly aware of his form of writing and the trick he’s trying to play on the reader, which should detract from the experience, but somehow doesn’t. I’m not sure how this happens, since usually I prefer the writing to be effortless and for the writer to be almost absent from the page, so that all that’s alive to me are the characters. But while this book constantly makes you aware that you are being talked to, the plot and characters are strong enough to carry the momentum forward until you forget how pretentious you found this very form of storytelling at the beginning.

I’ll also say one thing: Mohsin Hamid has a great editor. As someone who is both a reader as well as an editor, here's something I always notice: long sentences are tricky little buggers. But while this book indulges in them liberally, there was never any point where I felt the odd little hiccup that a misplaced comma or semi colon produces. It was clean, faultless writing, all smooth transition from one idea to the next. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if my enjoyment of this book had less to do with the characters and plot and more with how well structured each sentence felt. Some sentences were even a whole paragraph long—a writing trick I’ve usually seen as not encouraged, and not usually well executed. But it’s clear that in the hands of those who know how to write, it can work well.

I still didn’t love the book. I think it’s just a matter of Hamid writing stories whose complexity of text I can admire without caring about the characters at all. He doesn’t manage to make me awed enough to recommend the book to others, and also doesn’t create protagonists compelling enough to root for. So while it’s a good book, for a passably good enough experience, I can’t say much more than that.


How does Mohsin Hamid manage to get better every time I re-read his books?

Review to come.


I review Pakistani Fiction, and talk about Pakistani fiction, and want to talk to people who like to talk about fiction (Pakistani and otherwise, take your pick.) To read more reviews or just contact me so you can talk about books, check out my Blog or follow me on Twitter!
71 reviews3 followers
July 22, 2017
Now this was interesting: it is the story of a man told in the form of a self-help book, complete with the second-person present-tense conceit. I'm very fond of books that entangles with the themes of poverty and wealth inequality, and How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is no exception. We begin with the unnamed protagonist (who is, of course, referred throughout as "you") in his impoverished childhood, and we see him rise through the ranks chapter by chapter, falling in love, losing love, having love represent itself in a multitude of forms, until his ultimate demise at the end of the tale, when the author comes full circle by coalescing the two you's of the book—the unnamed protagonist, and you the reader.

It's a quick read, short and taut, but filled with clever moments and prose thought-provoking in the manner of bee stings—brief and fleeting in their delivery, yet enduring in its aftermath.

I'll end this by jotting down for future reference a quote towards the end of the book that I liked:

"It is the first visit in many years for your son, finally a citizen of his new country and free to travel, and you try to suppress your undercurrent of resentment at his decision to absent himself from your presence in so devastatingly severe a manner. You feel a love you know you will never be able to adequately explain or express to him, a love that flows one way, down the generations, not in reverse, and is understood and reciprocated only when time has made of a younger generation an older one."
Profile Image for Reem Ghabbany.
387 reviews314 followers
April 28, 2018
3.5* stars

I immensely enjoyed this book. it was such a unique read for me. I'm not really into self-improvement books since I think they're used for commercial purposes but this one was different I guess. at first, the book was highly motivational and I needed that but towards the end, it derailed off the track I guess and became more of a novel than a self-help book? the book was enlightening though or at least it was to me.
yes, I recommend this book :)
Profile Image for Caren.
493 reviews102 followers
March 17, 2013
I had read a bit of buzz about this book and, inexplicably, there was no waiting list at the library, so I picked it up, not really knowing what to expect. I absolutely couldn't put it down and read through it in one day. It begins as what appears to be a parody of a self-help book, in an unnamed country (but probably the author's native Pakistan), about an unnamed village boy addressed in the second-person as "you". As the story unfolds, little by little, the book is not as specific as the beginning led me to believe, until, by the end, the author is speaking to and about us all, to humanity. To pull that off in a slender 228 pages is nothing short of a piece of art. I am no expert, but I see this book winning awards. By the last couple of chapters, the author had somehow reached into my soul and I was in tears. Really, even though this story takes place in a Third World country, it speaks to our modern striving wherever we are, and it is, at its heart, a love story. The unnamed "you" is in love, all his life, with the also unnamed "pretty girl", even though one of the early injunctions as a requisite for becoming "filthy rich" was not to fall in love. Both the protagonist and the pretty girl do become rich, but find it is ephemeral and that what really remains is the attraction for each other formed in their youth. Not so many books can capture the essence of humanity the way this book does. It is deeply felt, yet unsentimental---a rare achievement.
Profile Image for Girish.
831 reviews202 followers
November 7, 2016
This is a good book from an author who is confident in his prowess to make you, the reader, empathise. The second person narrative is a welcome change to live the birth to death of a life which could be anyone in Asia - no city, no names, no time. Passed off as a self-help book where at the beginning of each section, he takes a dig at the genre, the book is surely a novel attempt.

Each chapter a decade (except the last 2) with the theme to become filthy rich in rising Asia, the book is at it's core a love story. The love story is understated by tides of time in the life of an entrepreneur's meteoric rise and the inevitable fall. The protagonist is not likeable but neither is he hate-able since it happens to be you in his shoes. The prose is brilliant as usual in Hamid's books.

I loved the narrative which had it's strength in it's normalcy (almost) and craving for companionship. In one of the best moments towards the end, the narrator tries to convince you to empathise with a fish trying to burp! The commentary on self help book as a genres was humorous. There were some parts I found too cliched like whining about poverty and corrupt bureaucrats. I found the chapter on drones and surveillance out of place but scary.

This is a short quick read with equal measures of brilliance and ordinary.
Profile Image for Lilisa.
403 reviews57 followers
December 17, 2013
Mohsin Hamid definitely has a unique masterful writing style. His ability to succeed in not naming any of his characters is amazing. Yes, you read right – his characters are nameless, but yet you know them…How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is set in a nameless country in Asia. The book is a so-called self-help book – helping the protagonist “improve” as he climbs the ladder of life, hits its peak and descends into the waning years of his life. We get to know him as a young boy in an unnamed village, his family trying to survive on what little they have. His family then moves to an unnamed teeming city in search of better prospects where he meets the unnamed “the pretty girl.” He transitions into a young man eking out a living to help his family, followed by his rise as an entrepreneur in the cutthroat business world, alternately deploying street smarts and bribery (the norm) to become a wealthy, but not necessarily a happy or satisfied man. For he’s not with “the pretty girl” and has to surround himself with armed guards to protect himself and his family as he struggles to maintain his financial stature marketing the most precious commodity – bottled water. Written in the second person, the book gives the reader a sort of “objective and detached emotional” experience – we understand them, we’re with them but there is a certain distance – as if watching a play unfold. But that melts away toward the end of the book as the distance falls away and we catch a glimpse of the strong bonds created. The book is a surprisingly fast read, amazing in its technique and a truly unique reading experience.
Profile Image for Chad Sayban.
253 reviews60 followers
June 25, 2013
Follow the journey of a nameless, impoverished rural boy who climbs to the top of the Asian business boom. But beware, because not everything in his life is going well and not all of his methods are necessarily ethical or legal. Haunted by the pretty girl he has known his whole life from afar and unable to reconcile his desires with his reality, his entire empire stands to crush him with its collapse.

“We are all refugees from our childhoods. And so we turn, among other things, to stories. To write a story, to read a story, is to be a refugee from the state of refugees. Writers and readers seek a solution to the problem that time passes, that those who have gone are gone and those who will go, which is to say every one of us, will go. For there was a moment when anything was possible. And there will be a moment when nothing is possible. But in between we can create.”

Part fiction memoir, part fiction self-help book, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is a unique blend of storytelling that works well some of the time, but doesn’t all of the time. The story follows an unnamed man from cradle to grave with the promise of how he gets rich in the social and economic upheaval of an unnamed late 20th century Asian country.

The writing and storytelling is sparse – too sparse at times – beginning each chapter with the lead-in of a how-to guide of each step in the chain of getting rich. Ultimately, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is really a story of the life of our unnamed hero. In this regard the writing mirrors his life in that it is somewhat empty and meaningless outside of his single pursuit. From the pretty girl his heart desires but never can never be but a passing fancy, to slowly losing his wife, his son and his business, the conclusion is both melancholy and crushing.

If I had been forced to read 400 pages like this, I would have been completely put off. However, Hamid manages to keep the story tight and readable encased within 240 pages and as a result, it is an enjoyable story. The writing isn’t particularly well done, but the depiction of the main character and the quirky presentation of the story makes it an interesting read. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is a good choice if you are looking for something a little different that won’t require a long-term reading commitment.
Profile Image for Jon Boorstin.
Author 6 books53 followers
March 22, 2014
So vivid, yet so economical. And so funny! When I got off the subway (yes, in Los Angeles) holding this book, I was stopped by an Asian woman, who wanted to see it. When I told her it was a novel, and not an actual self-help book, she lost interest. But in fact it's both. It skewers our secret desires.

Remarkable that it can be so vague about the big stuff (what country we're in, people's names), but so specific on the small stuff. It has tremendous vitality, and credibility, because it speaks the truth about the characters and their world. Somehow the rest doesn't interfere. Extraordinary.
Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,024 reviews48.3k followers
November 12, 2013
The first thing you notice when you start Mohsin Hamid’s extraordinarily clever third novel is that it’s written in the second person. That’s rare, even rarer than the first-person plural, which we enjoyed in Jeffrey Eugenides’s “The Virgin Suicides” and Eleanor Brown’s “The Weird Sisters.” In fact, you can’t remember reading anything narrated in the second person since Jay McInerney’s “Bright Lights, Big City” (1984), which you actually only pretended to have read after you saw the Michael J. Foxmovie.

Why not just stick with the good old third person? Don’t you find the second person hard to tolerate — the way it constantly reaches off the page and pokes you in the I?

As it turns out, that sense of being directly addressed is what this author exploits so brilliantly in “How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.” Hamid, who attended Princeton and Harvard and now lives in Pakistan, has taken the most American form of literature — the self-help book — and transformed it to tell the story of an ambitious man in the Third World. It’s a bizarre amalgam that looks like a parody of the genre from one angle and a melancholy reflection on modern life from another.

With a wink to Dale Carnegie and Stephen Covey, Hamid’s chapter titles lead us inexorably toward success: “Move to the City,” “Get an Education,” “Learn from a Master.” And he often strikes a perfect imitation of that overconfident, just-between-us tone that has appealed to the desperate for generations: “To be effective, a self-help book requires two things. First, the help it suggests should be helpful. Obviously. And second, without which the first is impossible, the self it’s trying to help should have some idea of what help is needed.”

So true, so true. I can picture my lonely teenage self jotting that tautological wisdom down in my secret journal.

Working within the frame of a self-help book would seem constricting at best, annoying at worst, but Hamid tells a surprisingly moving story and — crucially — a short one. His protagonist is never named, indeed, there aren’t any named people or places in this novel, although Hamid has spoken in interviews of the setting as Pakistan. But the story manages to be both particular and broad at the same time.

The hero — “You” — is a sickly boy who might have been snuffed out, as so many others in his village are, by fever or hepatitis. He and his family live in a single room, cook over a fire and drink from an open sewer. Only by chance is he not “a tiny skeleton in a small grave at the base of a tree.” One in a thousand, he escapes the deadliest risks of extreme poverty when his family crosses over “the yawning gap that exists between countryside and city.” Suddenly, they’re living in a metropolitan area filled with the wonders of electricity and gas-powered cars. Forget New York: If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.

But this is no granular report on what lies behind the beautiful forevers. Hamid’s method is glancing, often ironical. He sketches a “most unequal city” where rich and poor are swept together in “a rising tide of frustration and anger and violence.” Smart and savage when he has to be, the boy thrives in school, starts delivering counterfeit DVDs, then “non-expired-labeled expired-goods” and, finally, bottled (and sometimes filtered) water. “You know quality matters,” the narrator notes, “especially for fakes.”

Nothing we take for granted is in place here to encourage commerce or development. “Rampant nepotism,” bribes and corruption are the rule. Political parties are just rival gangs, assassins ride motorcycles down the crowded streets and terrorists’ bombs randomly rip apart lives and homes without any particular reason.

How quaint the challenges of life in the West seem against the background of this bloody chaos, through which hundreds of millions of people maneuver every day while staring up at American movie stars. Yet Hamid’s tough hero never despairs or complains. He’s young Ben Franklin in Southeast Asia. “I want to be rich,” he tells a friend, and it’s just that simple — a bittersweet echo of the American Dream, exported around the world like bottles of Coca-Cola.

What eventually gives the story such poignancy is the young man’s unquenchable desire for “the pretty girl.” “As far as getting rich is concerned, love can be an impediment,” the narrator warns. “It dampens the fire in the steam furnace of ambition, robbing of essential propulsion an already fraught upriver journey to the heart of financial success.”

And yet, once the boy spots the pretty girl, he’s permanently smitten — all through his filthy rise. Worldly and sexually daring, she’s on a much faster track, swept up in fashion and showbiz. “As with the sun,” the narrator notes, “you have always found it difficult to gaze upon her directly.”

As the novel grows more melancholy, its ironic humor sloughs off, and we’re left with a tender love affair between two tired, old people, an antidote to that desperate desire for financial gain. This deadly Asian story of how to succeed in business while really trying finally delivers You to a very different place than he set out to reach decades earlier. Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising. After all, as the narrator tries to help us understand in the opening pages, “The idea of self in the land of self-help is a slippery one.”
Profile Image for Siobhan.
39 reviews
March 17, 2013
Ultimately this book was a disappointment for me. The last chapter was by far the best, really a wonderful piece of writing save the use of the word "creepy" in the last sentence which was DISASTEROUS, shame on his editor! (I'm not usually so meticulous that word choice was SO incongruous I STILL find it jarring). The conceit of writing it as a self Help book was clever but did not ultimately serve any particular purpose and the story was too familiar. The characters, the city, the struggle, they've become archetypical in "the new Indian fiction" and I definitely felt I'd read Better versions of this book before, and while that in itself is not a problem, if you are going to write about a subject that has been written about a great deal already, its important to have a fresh perspective on the theme. I can think of several novels recent years that do a far better job of dramatizing life in modern Asia (specifically India and Pakistan) and the struggle to rise out of poverty (one of the best and most similar is "The White Tiger"). It is well written but I think in the end he would have been better served to concentrate on the element of the novel that succeeds best which is the love story. I would love to have seen the last chapter as a starting point for a different novel that is about the love story between pretty girl and our hero ("you") rather than the half hearted novel about class struggle and survival in modern Asia. Truly this novel cannot hide what it wants to be which is a love story, if only the author had focused on that instead.
Profile Image for Haider Hussain.
218 reviews28 followers
September 27, 2016
Perhaps some readers may find such painstakingly dull, monotonic and bureaucratic writing beautiful, I certainly did not. After dragging myself till page 88, I gave up reading "How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia" because all the book offered was long, twisted sentences that could have been written rather more efficiently in less space.

With all due respect, I think for some Pakistani/Indian writers, writing fiction is all about showing off their command over English language (or perhaps their ready access to a thesaurus!).

Although i did not mind the second-person perspective, the book made me feel like i was reading a PhD thesis written solely for the purpose of wining a degree. The story and plot were pretty decent, but I could not comprehend the narrative that made the story jump suddenly to a new phase of protagonist's life in each chapter. Thus the character development was significantly weak.

Thank God I bought a slightly damaged book dirt cheap!
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