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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 May 2013
I haven't read Pakistani author Hamid's first two novels (Moth Smoke and The Reluctant Fundamentalist), but after reading this, I'm very inclined to seek them out. Here, he makes three and a half interesting choices in the telling of a straightforward rags-to-riches story, all of which succeed in the service of the story he's telling about life in modern "Rising Asia."

The first and second choice are somewhat interrelated: the book is written in the framework of the self-help genre (which is a booming one in many parts of the world, not just the West), and as such, is written in the second person. The self-help framework lays out each chapter as a step up the ladder toward the penthouse of wealth, each accompanied by its own hardships, degradation, compromises, and deference/capitulation to the more powerful capitalists above one. When linked together, the chapter titles chart a twelve-step path to riches worthy of any self-help "system": 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 --> Patronize the Artists of War --> Dance With Debt --> Focus on the Fundamentals --> Have an Exit Strategy. Of course, despite the clear path -- not everything quite goes according to plan as messy things like feelings occasionally intrude.

The third choice is a much more daring one -- the story of the sixty-some years from rags to riches does not in any way correspond to linear time. For example, in the second and third chapters, the subject of the story is a teenager working for a DVD rental store. DVDs didn't appear until 1995, and almost certainly didn't achieve widespread use in Pakistan for at least five years, so if the subject's life story unfolded in conventional time, the final chapters would be taking place somewhere around 2050 or so. Instead, the book appears to hover in the same setting, somewhere between 2001 and 2011 or so even as the protagonist ages. The final half-choice is the book's brevity, clocking in at a generous 200 pages, even with ample line spacing. I say half-choice because who knows if the author set out with the intention of writing something short, but it's a breath of fresh air to me whenever I find a compelling story that clocks in at under 350 pages.

When I pick up a book with glowing blurbs on the cover from literary luminaries ranging from Philip Pullman to Dave Eggers, I am instantly put on a alert and don my skeptic goggles. However, this is a book that fully deserves the praise. It's not a book that's going to open your eyes if you're someone who is paying attention to the lives of people in the wider world, but its depiction of what success looks like and takes in "rising Asia" is inventively crafted and best of all, a fun and quick read.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 9 April 2013
Lovely book. Fundamentally a love story. And actually a very uplifting book that for the longest time seems to be poking fun at the pursuit of wealth, but in the end is a generous, forgiving, considerate book that doesn't judge the paths we take in life.
As it approaches the end and the writer himself literally becomes a character, the book becomes one of the most emotional stories, making sense of life as it ends, and bringing redemption to every actor.
Wonderful.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
How brave is Mohsin Hamid. Forget the self-help element of the book - as he himself dismisses it at the outset: "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."

The really brave thing about this book is that it's written in the second person. I'm not sure I've ever come across this before and, to begin with, I wasn't sure I was going to like it. But Mohsin Hamid carries it off with brio, with sustained skill, with genuine insight and, above all, with tenderness.

Although it is indeed about a boy trying to lift himself up from squalor to success, the thread of the story that pulls at your heart-strings is the love story between "the pretty lady" and "the little boy" (as she calls him). We never get to know their names nor the names of the cities in which they live nor the name of the country in which the novel is set. It could be all cities, all countries, all couples. A wonderful, wonderful read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 19 August 2014
This brought a smile to my face. A novella that is actually a fictional autobiography of an eponymous small-town peasant who builds himself a mini bottled water empire in an eponymous South Asian country, I found it tender, concerned and reliably informed about the milieu it talked from. There is a touching thread of an unconsummated love affair that almost survives the torrents of lives lived by the protagonist and his first love as they both exclusively chase their individual American dream in a big megapolis checking each of its trappings: the obligatory marriage and kid, the expanding business, the enveloping heart disease, the scams, the violence from those begrudging their money, and this somewhat-cinematic, almost-unbelievable rope of co-incidence imparts this otherwise distant book a welcome tenderness.

At barely 200 pages, the second person telling shoulders the leaps in year well and manages to keep you invested. In retrospect the casual telling of whole years in a few lines of prose befits a life lived chasing the materialistic objects and dubious social ephemeralities like "status" and "connections" which are the life-blood of social fabric in such countries.

Sharing its tone, themes and sentiments with the more voluminous Tash Aw's Five Star Billionaire published coincidentally in the same year, Hamid with his smaller canvas peopled with fewer characters achieves a similar concoction of sociological snapshot, decade-long sweep with principal characters in convincing mortal peril and sporting an identifiable contemplative mood cherry-topped with wry sense of humour. It shares with Aw's book much of its cleverness too, not least the ungainly title, the ironic Self Help Money Making chapter titles (Aw wrote for us whole self-help chapters), and like Aw's book, here too, it's the masterful offsetting of the self-reflexiveness and other literary tropes with genuine concern for the world state and some head-bending, heart-rending turns of phrase that make this a triumph.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 4 December 2014
Reviews in newspapers have been full of praise for this book. Mohsin Hamid’s earlier books have been well written and thought provoking. Like many other authors, Hamid has not been able to sustain the same standard in this book. But it is possibly because of his name that reviews have been so praiseworthy.

The reader is very much reminded about Arvind Adiga’s White Tiger, and from the point of supporting Hamid’s book title, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, The White Tiger is a better book. While Hamid does look at aspects of how one can get rich, that is not his only aim. He is quite keen to show how a relationship between a man and a woman develops, wanes and then becomes strong again, and shows strong elements of getting rich but it somewhat dilutes the main thrust of the book.

The book is written in an interesting style. Each chapter takes on a particular theme and shows whether that theme is helpful to becoming rich or not. Some of the points he makes are very plausible. But he also looks at what happens when something goes wrong and you lose your wealth, or you lose your wealth because your career is based on youth, beauty or some such factor that will inevitably change. He tries to make this a self-help guide, but is not completely convincing.

In some ways the reader feels that Hamid developed the story as he was writing it, rather than having a clear idea as to what he wanted to go into the book. A shame as he is a talented writer and can be innovative in his style.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 15 October 2014
This book wasn't all that bad but I'm, afraid that it wasn't worth the time it took to read it (thankfully this was a quick read).

Pros: + there is some humour,
+ interesting reflections and perspectives on the human condition,

Cons: - the narrative is written in the smug style of a 'know it all' 2nd person narrative, very similar to that found in 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' with the added perspective of a self help book, which is patronising and self aggrandising at the same time. Thankfully this is limited to the first few paragraphs of each chapter,
- The 'Self Help' style of the book is irrelevant and doesn't add to the story.
- the grammar is awful,
- the portrayal and depiction of the physical environment and characters is lazy, long winded, fails to add any real depth and is very superficial.
- A much better and funny book is 'A Case of Exploding Mangoes' by Mohammed Hanif or 'The End Of Innocence' by Moni Mohsin which are beautifully written, are full of well rounded and detailed characters against a vivid and rich background and environment.
- The sex and violence are unnecessary and gratuitous as well as being poorly written, they add little to the storyline.
- Unnecessarily slow pace in some parts of the book means that this could have been a lot shorter.
- The story and references within it wont make much sense to anyone without a significant understanding of Subcontinental Asian culture and history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Like his last novel, the excellent 'Reluctant Fundamentalist', Mohsin Hamid has written 'How to Get Filthy Rich...' in the second person. This unusual choice worked very well in the former, but is not as successful here. The novel is presented in the style of a self-help book, but is actually the fictional life story of a man in an unnamed Asian country - presumably India or Pakistan - who rises from poverty to eventual financial success. It charts his life from early childhood to death, presented in bite-sized chunks each of which presents some aspect of the narrator's philosophy of how a budding entrepreneur should go about amassing a fortune.

It's an interesting idea and scores points for originality. But the use of second-person lets the narrative down somewhat by leaving me feeling disengaged from the story. I found it much harder to sympathise with the protagonist than I may have done if it had been written in first person. None of the principal characters are named, even our hero, and his love interest is referred to throughout as 'the pretty girl'. So I found it hard to emotionally engage with their lives, as I felt I was always one step removed from them, and found it hardtop get to know them. It's not a story with a massively dramatic or surprising plot, and therefore a strong emotional attachment to the characters is important to keep the reader involved. Without that, it feels like a rather pedestrian biography of a small-time businessman.

The quality of writing is decent, and it moves at a reasonable pace. But it lacks the vibrancy and sparkle that you'd particularly expect from a novel all about life in some of the most dynamic and exciting economies in the world at present. It suffers a bit from the condensed timescale, with events skipping forwards many years between chapters. This again makes it harder to really engage with the narrator, because (to borrow a phrase from reality TV) the reader never gets to go on a 'journey' with him. They get some snapshots of his life, but not the time in between to really get to know and love or hate him. I still didn't entirely understand what made him tick by the end. He seemed a decent enough bloke, but I can't say I was particularly rooting for him.

'How to Get Filthy Rich...' should score points for originality and for a confident execution. I neither loved nor hated it, but I suspect in a month's time I won't be able to tell you what it was about either. It's not really a story where a lot of any consequence happens. All the situations it describes can be found in other fiction, so there's nothing fresh about it. I also struggled to understand what the 'point' was of the book - what was it trying to say, if anything? Did it have a message the reader was supposed to take home? Sometimes, understanding what the author intended can be very helpful in understanding off the results, and therefore in commenting on them going forwards.

It's an unusual book and one that shouldn't be missed by fans of books written in the second person, or anyone with a strong interest in modern India/Pakistan and how business is conduced in Asian countries. For the more casual reader, I'd recommend it less strongly, and suggest they try 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' instead.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 30 April 2014
Hamid's How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is a somewhat conventional tale of social rise and fall disguised in the more original format of a self-help book. The hero, who is just called 'you', begins as the son of poor peasants, makes it to the city, becomes a business boss, and rises to 'filthy rich' status. On and off, he pursues a romantic interest, the 'pretty girl', who turns out to be just as ruthless and determined as he is and, for a while a kept woman, goes for a career in the fashion world.

Rising Asia, meanwhile, based on the characters and places described, can only be India or Pakistan, not China, certainly, or even a Southeast Asian country. Hamid's writing strikes a balance between sarcasm and the faux-optimistic tone of the self-help genre, while at the same time leaving place for the personal, the psychological, the more poignant. This makes the book work as a novel while allowing time to stand still, as it would do in an actual self-help book, so that Hamid's social critique remains focused on contemporary Asia. Indeed, the character ends the story at eighty-or-so years old - had the story's setting aged with him, it would have had to start back in colonial times. Hamid is an accomplished writer, and his novel is at once intriguing, entertaining, and a moving story.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 6 October 2013
This is a book about the difficulty of love in the modern zeitgeist. The self-help notion is both satirized and interrogated - even self-interrogated to the point where even the act of reading, as a helping to the self, is put into question. The use of the second person singular enables a Brechtian distancing that allows the reader to always consider if/whether they would place themselves into the position of the character they are reading. This puts a moral dimension on each line. On the other hand, the pull of the story counters this, so that, in a way, the reader is almost being read by the book - quite a novel experience indeed. The fairy-tale simplicity adds to the moral tone, and counters the continual graphic reality of the 'filthy' that underpins Hamid's descriptions and events. The point of view shifts in a thrilling way, especially during the chapter concerning 'war' where the pov shifts into the laptops owned by characters and the drones that observe them from above. This book, like 'Catcher In The Rye', is deceptively simple and deserves to become a modern classic.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 4 July 2014
"The Reluctant Fundamentalist" by the same author, is a hard act to follow. This book's originality lies in the fact that it is written in the 2nd person, on the pretext that it is - as the title suggests - a self-help book. I very soon got used to the 2nd person presentation and read the book as a straight forward cradle-to-grave, rags-to-riches-to-rags, novel of urban life in Pakistan. The chapter by chapter construction - "Get an Education", "Be Prepared for Violence" offers very straightforward navigation of the text, especially useful if you are reading it on a Kindle. The plot and the sympathetic characterisation carried me along rapidly, and I enjoyed this novel to the very last page.
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