March 08, 2013 at 05:00 AM EST

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Mohsin Hamid
publisher
Riverhead Hardcover
Genre
Fiction
We gave it a B+

You have written your insightful and entertaining third novel, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, in the second person — a daring gambit that seldom works. (Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City is a notable exception.) You’re familiar with such risks. You used the device in passages of your 2000 debut, Moth Smoke, and then successfully experimented with a book-length first-person monologue for your acclaimed 2007 novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

As the title implies, How to Get Filthy Rich is also framed as a self-help book, with chapters charting lessons from the life of a young boy in an unnamed Asian country who rises from rural poverty to become an urban industrial tycoon. Like Changez, the Pakistani Princeton grad whose career as a go-getting Manhattan banker was upended by 9/11 in Fundamentalist, your new hero is a striver. You’ve managed to keep him sympathetic to readers even as he cuts corners, bribes government officials, and alienates his family on the path to greatness. It helps that he has a lost love, the ”pretty girl” from his boyhood who embarks on a parallel course of economic self-improvement.

You have a natural authority as a storyteller, rendering life in an emerging nation in lucid detail. Yet you also verge on the off-puttingly meta, as when you wonder why people ”persist in reading that much-praised, breathtakingly boring foreign novel.” Perhaps, as you suggest, fiction can satisfy an ”impulse to understand distant lands that because of globalization are increasingly affecting life in [our] own.” But while your stylistic flourishes are clever, at times they almost overwhelm the human drama. It’s as if you’d prefer to hold your characters at a safe distance rather than inhabit them fully. Though your hero’s trials and tribulations always engage, they never devastate. B+

Memorable Line:

”Your anguish is the anguish of a boy whose chocolate has been thrown away, whose remote controls are out of batteries, whose scooter is busted, whose new sneakers have been stolen.”

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