Nancy McKibben's Reviews > How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia
bookshelves: reviewed, literary-fiction
By Mohsin Hamid
A clever book, this. It’s a novel put together like a self-help book, divided into chapters titled: Move To the City, Get An Education, Don’t Fall in Love, Avoid Idealists, Learn From A Master, Work for Yourself, Be Prepared to Use Violence, Befriend a Bureaucrat and so on, some of which could be actual self-help advice and some of which, clearly, are bogus, although they may work.
The life of the protagonist, unnamed as are all characters, unfolds chronologically with the chapter titles, and we see that he has a family that he loves and who loves him and is prepared to sacrifice to help him. His initial abject poverty and the difficulty of bettering himself honestly help us to understand his sometimes dubious choices as he strives to become the filthy rich of the title.
The novel is rife with social commentary, presented in a matter-of-fact, non-judgmental manner that makes it more shocking. This is life as usual, we learn. From the chapter Befriend a Bureaucrat:
Entrepreneurship in the barbaric wastes furthest from state power is a fraught endeavor, a constant battle, a case of kill or be killed, with little guarantee of success.The satire is biting, but satire can be heartless, and this book is more than that, because we care for the protagonist and those he loves and tries to love. His son, for example:
No, harnessing the state’s might for personal gain is a much more sensible approach. Two related categories of actors have long understood this. Bureaucrats, who wear state uniforms while secretly back their private interests. And bankers, who wear private uniforms while secretly being backed by the state. You will need the help of both. But in rising Asia, where bureaucrats lead, bankers ten to follow, and so it is on befriending the right bureaucrat that your continued success critically depends.
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.Gentle passages such as these provide a balance to the harshness of life in rising Asia, and kept me reading. The author continued to surprise and even delight me with his deft narration of the protagonist’s life. Different, and recommended.