HOW TO GET FILTHY RICH IN RISING ASIA by Mohsin Hamid (Riverhead/Penguin), 228 pages, $28.50 cloth. Rating: NNNN
Mohsin Hamid is too skilled a writer for his own good. How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia is supposed to be a sly satire, but he writes with such vibrance and intensity that you almost care too much about the characters to enjoy his biting commentary.
The new novel by the Booker-shortlisted Pakistani author (The Reluctant Fundamentalist), referred to as a self-help book, is written in the risky second person, describing the events that happen to "you." None of the other characters is named, nor is the setting, though it has Pakistan written all over it.
Each chapter is headed by an instruction - Move To The City, for example, Befriend A Bureaucrat or Dance With Debt - and tells part of the story of the rise of a poverty-stricken boy who is lucky to get an education and savvy enough to navigate the corrupt corporate and bureaucratic sectors while he sells foodstuffs that are past their due date and, later, fake bottled water.
He marries and has a son, but yearns for the Pretty Girl he sees occasionally who has herself become a success by making the most of her exceptional beauty.
The book is slim but big on outrage, until You grows old and Hamid's attitude toward his material softens. These last sections do mess with what has been a near-acidic tone. They also emphasize that money and happiness aren't the same thing and that being filthy rich doesn't stop the aging process.
Not exactly groundbreaking ideas, but when they're expressed in such spectacular, muscular writing, that doesn't much matter.