Originally published in March 2014
Who doesn’t own a self-help book or two?
The way author Mohsin Hamid sees it, if you own a book, then you own a self-help book. Any book—fiction, nonfiction or otherwise, helps in some form or fashion, even if it’s just to entertain.
So goes his novel, “How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia,” recently released in paperback. The protagonist, a young boy born into Pakistani poverty and rising to some considerable wealth, shares his tips with “You”—a character device meant to bring the reader into the story. Says Hamid, “For me, the main character is also the reader. I wanted to blur the boundaries between the book and the reader reading the book by having no name, calling the character—the reader—‘you.’” You can read my interview with Hamid here.
With chapters titled, “Move to the City, “Avoid Idealists,” and “Work for Yourself,” Hamid is able to break up the protagonist’s life into logical chunks—youth, young adulthood, marriage and parenthood and old age—successfully. Disguised as a self-help tome, the novel shares the moving tale of Young Boy, his relationship with his family, learning to make his own way in the city, falling in love, failing as a husband and parent, growing from life crises and ultimately making peace with his path.
The story, though modeled after Lahore, Pakistan, is intentionally set in a nondescript Asian countryside and city, and none of the characters—the boy’s parents, siblings, his wife and his true love—have names. It’s an intimate look into the lives of this family and the strong but subtle bonds that tie them together. No one is winning a Parent of the Year award in this family, but it’s clear there is much love—from the time the father brings his family to the city to the hospital where an ex-wife cares for a husband’s illness in the twilight of his years. (One could argue after reading it that it was guilt, but I’m choosing love.)
And at its core, there is a deeply moving love story that begins between two young souls, both searching for a path to a better life and willing to do the less-than-savory to get there, and ends with a reunion that had me crying ugly as I set the book down. Lord, just thinking about it has me grabbing my tissue again.
When I spoke with the author, he said that the goal for writers should be “To produce something that is true and beautiful and that endures, that is the goal.” He nailed it with this book. It is fantastic and I will be singing its praises to anyone who comes near me for a suggestion. Clocking in at just over 200 pages, this is the perfect weekend read. Stop what you are doing and go get it now.