If there’s any genre that the startup community collectively loves, it’s a self-help book, whether it be about negotiation or growth hacking. I am more of a fiction lover, so if I were to read any self-help book, Mohsin Hamid’s How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia seemed like the right place to start. Set in an unnamed country in the developing world–although it is generally assumed to be the author’s home country, Pakistan–the novel follows a boy’s journey from village to city, poverty to business savvy, business savvy to wealth, and wealth to the conclusion that life is better experienced without dependency on material wealth.
The book is a lesser-known work from Booker Prize-nominated Hamid and was largely met with critical praise, but it was hard to enjoy for several reasons. Sweeping novels that encompass lifetimes are very rarely done right and the novel uses second-person point-of-view (“You are a door to an existence she does not desire”) to an interesting, but exhausting effect.
Aside from this literary feature, as a member of the Indian diaspora–a country with many similarities, and indeed many ties to Pakistan–the repeated references to slum life in urban Asia had an unpleasantly commercialized feel to them. But readers saw value in this material, with The Guardian praising Hamid’s descriptions of “stomach-churning depths of squalor.” However, the clinical tone and second-person POV leave little room for sensitivity or emotion. What began as a clever way of repurposing the self-help tone soon becomes a vehicle for the author to baldly interject details about poverty, as though included for shock value.
Hamid’s novel is still redeemable by virtue of being a different kind of read. It may not have real insight to offer in terms of getting filthy rich, but for those with similar ambitions, at the very least, it can provide a mental break away from the grind. –NB
Cover art courtesy of Penguin Random House.