BY SARAH LAURENCE
Although in his new book, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, Mohsin Hamid cleverly parodies the superfluous self-help books lapped up by youth in Asia, he wastes no time in pointing out that the very genre is an oxymoron, as one reads a self-help book “so that someone who isn’t yourself can help you”. Later, we find that this book “may not have been the very best of guides to getting filthy rich in rising Asia”.
So. Self-help it isn’t — but what it is, is an incredibly fast-paced account of a life, one of many and almost (but not, due to superior characterisation) lost in the seething masses in an unnamed area of an unnamed city of an unnamed country. As an author, Hamid finds himself in the precarious position of attempting to portray a life indistinguishable from millions of others similar in circumstance (hence the anonymity – even satellite characters are not named, but called “the pretty girl”, “your wife”, “your son”) but ultimately unable to do so as a result of his artfully written, compelling characters whose anonymity frustrates the readers as we are left pining for more detail and, child-like, asking, “What happens next?”
Drawing the reader into our nameless protagonist’s life is Hamid’s second-voice narration – unusual in its use and extraordinary in its accomplishment. “You” is our protagonist, as well as ourselves, the reader. The story of our unexceptional life in Rising Asia is told to us in fast-moving episodes with the incredible result of us, as reader, becoming the protagonist. Stories of the character’s life become our stories, our life, told by an omniscient, oft ominous sounding narrator. As Hamid writes, what one sees when one reads a book is “black squiggles on pulped wood, or increasingly, dark pixels on a pale screen. To transform these icons into characters and events, you must imagine”. This author’s talent, then, is providing just the right sort of squiggles which fire up our imagination and open up our mind to this particular, unique though undefined, corner of Rising Asia.
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is published by Penguin, R200, and is one of AERODROME’s WinterReads.
GIVEAWAY: Win one of two copies of How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid. To enter, email competition(at)aerodrome.co.za, with the book’s title in the subject line. In the body of the email please include your full name, contact number and physical address (including area code). Only readers resident in South Africa are eligible. Entries close at the end of July.