Mohsin Hamid’s third novel, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, is a novel in self-help form.
Narrated in second person (making the main character “you”), it places the reader within the story, transforming you into him, him into you. You never learn the character’s name, nor those of friends, relatives, or crushes. (A fact that only crossed my mind as I came to write it.)
Many authors have used the second person to varying affects and degrees of success. Here it’s the device of an omniscient narrator, writing me-to-you, insuring both scope and engagement. With enough distance not to become overbearing and sparing use of the word “you”, it’s a device that soon becomes seamless in reading.
For a novel about becoming filthy rich, money is described in relatable terms. Time seems to accelerate throughout, putting you in the shoes of the protagonist and hitting the gas – as, of course, in life. And we’re in safe hands as Hamid’s exploration of life, money, and relationships hit upon life’s biggest challenges: the events which alter us, the places where we fritter away time versus those we ignored and inevitably live to regret. Touching romance is handled with the same eloquent touch as crushing disappointment (and are, at times, one and the same). Ambition, pride, anxiety, lust, blinding fear: it’s all here.
The spectrum of life is laid bare, providing plenty of opportunity for introspection. As a reader, one is led by the hand without having one’s hand held – a safe, yet precarious position, and one handled with grace. Though placed front-and-centre, there is no room for your own ego, and you must bear the brunt of the narrator’s choices for you, which makes for a curious yet utterly satisfying reading experience.
Some parts of the book zoomed out much further, lending context and keeping characters in mind, but foregrounding plot machinations in the process. A quibble, perhaps, but in an otherwise tight story this is one qualm that keeps this from being a 5-star read.