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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


How to Get Filthy Rich
in Rising Asia

Mohsin Hamid

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

Title: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia
Author: Mohsin Hamid
Genre: Novel
Written: 2013
Length: 228 pages
Availability: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia - US
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia - UK
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia - Canada
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia - India

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Our Assessment:

B : clever approach, often striking writing, but ultimately too thin

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 29/3/2013 Amit Chaudhuri
The Guardian A 28/3/2013 Theo Tait
The Independent . 22/3/2013 Arifa Akbar
New Statesman . 9/4/2013 Hannah Rosefield
The NY Times A 22/2/2013 Michiko Kakutani
The NY Times Book Rev. . 31/3/2013 Parul Sehgal
San Francisco Chronicle A 8/3/2013 Krys Lee
The Spectator B 6/4/2013 William Skidelsky
Sunday Times . 24/3/2013 Adam Lively
The Telegraph . 22/3/2013 Edmund Gordon
The Telegraph . 28/3/2013 Claudia Yusef
The Times . 6/4/2013 Hugo Rifkind
Wall Street Journal B 2/3/2013 Sam Sacks
The Washington Post . 26/2/2013 Ron Charles

  From the Reviews:
  • "Hamidís story is at once fable-like and existential." - Amit Chaudhuri, Financial Times

  • "Some readers might find that the novel trips up from time to time on its own conceits; but it is an addictive, muscular piece of storytelling, and the few moments of clumsiness and archness that Hamid's formal experiments produce are a price well worth paying. (...) This is a tremendous novel: tender, sharp and formally daring, a portal into a fast-moving, vividly realised world." - Theo Tait, The Guardian

  • "Paradoxically, though its form seems designed to distance us from charactersí inner lives, it still manages to draw us in at times. (...) As page-turning as Hamidís book is, in the end its effect is remarkably similar to that of a self-help book -- glib in tone, forgotten soon after it is put down." - Arifa Akbar, The Independent

  • "How to Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia turns out to be as much moral fable as it is satire. Fortunately, Hamid makes each mode as fresh as the other." - Hannah Rosefield, New Statesman

  • "What might initially seem like a clumsy narrative technique is actually a device that allows Mr. Hamid to zoom in and out from his heroís life, as though he were using a telephoto lens (.....) Mr. Hamid has high-frequency radar for status distinctions, and in these pages he provides an acerbic, almost anthropological sense of how bribes and corruption grease the social system in his not-quite-Pakistan. (...) It is a measure of Mr. Hamidís audacious talents that he manages to make his protagonistís story work on so many levels." - Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

  • "The marriage of these two curiously compatible genres -- self-help and the old-fashioned bildungs≠roman -- is just one of the pleasures of Mohsin Hamidís shrewd and slippery new novel, a rags-to-riches story that works on a head-splitting number of levels." - Parul Sehgal, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The power of this astounding book, however, doesn't lie primarily in its subject matter but in the intelligence and fearless stylistic choices of the narrative. (...) Though all the characters are clearly individuals with particular traits and quirks, they uniformly lack names. The withholding of names gives the characters archetypal resonance." - Krys Lee, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Yet the danger of framing a novel in this way is that it may be constricted by the limitations of the genres it seeks to expose. And the truth is that How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, while effective as satire, works less well on the human level. The basic problem is that the generalising tendencies of self-help (a genre whose goal is to suggest that we are basically all the same) rubs up against literatureís need for specificity." - William Skidelsky, The Spectator

  • "This conceit proves an excellent way of approaching an aspirational society, and of suggesting that aspiration is a fundamental part of human nature. It allows Hamid to implicitly pair the trajectory of his heroís life with the trajectories of millions of other lives. (...) How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is a vital and affecting portrait of a teeming and globally significant, but largely unrecorded culture. It is a bold formal experiment contained within an elegant novella. It is moving and charming and funny." - Edmund Gordon, The Telegraph

  • "As the novel progresses, the gap between the goal-orientated platitudes espoused by self-help books and Youís specific joys and regrets grows more acute. What could have been a gimmicky device becomes essential to our understanding of the price of Youís success." - Claudia Yusef, The Telegraph

  • "Mr. Hamid's cool, cynical intelligence is everywhere on display, in both the polished veneer of the prose (...) and the insights into the ephemeral nature of new money. The last chapters acutely illustrate how the rewards of a lifetime of labor can vanish overnight. But the author is less assured with a threadbare romance between the upwardly mobile protagonist and another self-made figure from the slums" - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

  • "Itís a bizarre amalgam that looks like a parody of the genre from one angle and a melancholy reflection on modern life from another." - Ron Charles, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is written in the second person -- but its 'you' is no everyman (and certainly not the reader), and so it turns out to be a somewhat limited, and limiting approach. The narrator admits in the opening section: "a self-help book is an oxymoron" and at its playful best Hamid here milks all that is associated with the genre(s) -- self-help and fiction -- to very nice effect; unfortunately he doesn't quite go all-in -- even as he artfully teases along the way:

     None of the foregoing means self-help books are useless. On the contrary, they can be useful indeed. But it does mean that the idea of self in the land of self-help is a slippery one. And slippery can be good. Slippery can be pleasurable. Slippery can provide access to what would chafe if entered dry.
       The 'you' who is the central character of the novel -- he, like the other figures in the novel, remains nameless -- is a clever boy who rises from very humble beginnings in a Pakistan-like country to eventually make his fortune (in the bottled water business). It's twelve(-step) chapters chronicle his rise (and ultimate fall), jumping over years at a time, each chapter loosely based on some (pseudo-)self-help precept ('Learn from a Master'; 'Avoid Idealists') and presenting both a chapter from his life and a lesson of how things work in the rapidly transforming 'rising Asia' of our times.
       How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is a fairly short novel, the scenes-from-a-life presented almost in sketchbook form, yet it also offers a wide-ranging glimpse of the rapid changes and upheavals much of Asia is currently undergoing. Hamid consciously chooses to skim this vast surface, rather than overwhelm with detail, yet he has a striking talent for capturing the essence of everything, from the class and family relationship and ties to corruption, in these scenes. Yes, ultimately, it is too bare and thin, but there's more than one might imagine could be so neatly fit in so few words.
       The protagonists' life- and career-arc is complemented by that of the love of his life, the 'pretty girl' (as she is referred to throughout) with her own dreams whom he knows from his youth and his old neighborhood, a lifelong friend and sometime intimate who nevertheless keeps him at a certain distance, only resurfacing occasionally in his life. The protagonist marries, but that relationship isn't entirely successful; he has a son, but the boy goes to study and then settles down in the United States. The pretty girl remains the only constant -- one he can rely on, but must also be patient with. Unfortunately, this significant romantic side-tale doesn't fit as neatly with the rest of the story: the pretty girl's own life-path turns out to be quite interesting (as does the even more peripherally presented one of the protagonist's wife), but the romantic connection between her and the protagonist feels forced (and too obviously fictional).
       Midway through the novel the protagonist offer a nod of sorts to the actual you -- you the reader -- rather than just his fictional one, noting that: "Like all books, this self-help book is a co-creative project", and that what the reader brings to it, by transforming print through his or her imagination, is what makes the book:
It's in being read that a book becomes a book, and in each of a million different readings a book becomes one of a million different books, just as an egg becomes one of potentially a million different people when it's approached by a hard-swimming and frisky school of sperm.
       There are tantalizing suggestions like this in the novel, but the author does keep rather firmer control than he generally admits; the story remains more his than yours.
       As in his earlier novels, Hamid shows some impressive talent here. Some of the writing is exceptional, some of the ideas very clever. And yet, and yet .....
       It just doesn't quite pan out nearly well or far enough. So much of this is good -- and yet so much (and the book as a whole) so frustratingly just not good enough.

- M.A.Orthofer, 16 March 2013

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How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia: Reviews: Mohsin Hamid: Other books by Mohsin Hamid under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Mohsin Hamid was born in Pakistan in 1971. He attended Princeton and Harvard, and now lives in England.

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© 2013 the complete review

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