I picked up How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia as a part of my Life’s Library book club membership. I couldn’t have been happier to stumble upon Mohsin Hamid.
The story in itself is unique but what stands out the most is Hamid’s writing style. It is unconventional, experimental, and creative.
What’s the story?
How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia is the book baby of self-help and bildungsroman (something we also see in Jane Eyre).
The story is set in an unknown city in Pakistan. Our narrator moves from his village to a city. We see his story unfold from a poor city boy to the owner of a major urban water company.
Each chapter is a somewhat hilarious, somewhat ironic, and somewhat hilarious instruction on the classic “how-to” of getting rich in a transitional society. Some instructions of these chapters are followed by our narrator (eg- Learn from a master) and some he doesn’t (eg – Don’t fall in love).
While the entire story is played out from the narrator’s point of view, there are also secondary characters in the book. We meet the narrator’s mother, his father, his sister, his brother, his wife, his son, and the “pretty girl” that he falls in love with. All characters fit beautifully into the story, despite having a lack of depth.
What themes and writing styles are employed?
The primary differentiator of the book is not the story, but the writing style that Mohsin Hamid employs. The narrator writes in second-person, so “you” are technically in the story, living his life through his eyes. So, it is like “you” fall in love with the “pretty girl” and do XYZ everything that the narrator does.
It’s a creative choice that many readers find tough in the beginning, accustomed to in the middle, and exhausting in the end.
This voice sometimes also feels accusatory and sometimes ironic.
How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia also has the classic “how-to” structure used in self-help books. The entire story is narrated from this perspective.
The marriage of self-help and second person results in the narrator sounding self-conscious or an arrogant leader who guides you on “how to get rich” but doesn’t leave any actionable insights for you.
Shortcomings of “How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia”
The creative choice of using the second-person has been both loved and hated by readers (but mostly, loved). It can be confusing in the beginning and a little forced in the end.
Also, to keep the story in this second-person narrative, the story often bribes away the punch of sensitivity and emotion to grave issues like poverty, social inequality, and injustice.
These themes are often also explored only from a surface level. The perspective readers get is only of one narrator, which is why each theme and character has a lack of depth.
Apart from creating a differentiating factor, there is no other reason why I can see the use of employing “how-to-self-help” and second person structure in this book.
I certainly enjoyed reading Mohsin Hamid’s work. His prose is tight and I was happy with his experimental second-person narration. But, like many other readers, I found it a bit tiring towards the end. I also wished the characters were explored more.
As someone from South Asia myself, this book feels relatable on a personal level. There are ample issues described by the narrator that overlaps with the environment I’ve lived in or experienced first-hand.
Overall, How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia is a great book for readers all over the globe. To south Asians, it gives a flavor of relatability and experimentality. To readers from the West, it gives gory details about getting rich in rising Asian societies.
I’d definitely recommend it as a one-time (and maybe even one-sitting) read.