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Customer Review

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit pedestrian, 24 Mar. 2014
This review is from: How to Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia (Kindle Edition)
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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