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How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

Mohsin Hamid's wry novel is accessible as well as exotic.

March 6, 2013

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia By Mohsin Hamid Penguin 240 pp.

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Reviewed by Heller McAlpin for Barnes & Noble Review

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One of the reasons we read is to escape the cabin fever of our own little worlds. But just as some of us are more adventurous travelers than others, some are more adventurous readers. "I'm tired of reading books about people I might run into at Whole Foods," a friend complained, while another groused with startling insularity about having to absorb a cultural history lesson with each new far-flung book.

My recommendation for book groups this month is Mohsin Hamid's wry third novel, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, and it might just satisfy both reluctant and bold literary explorers. It is at once accessible and exotic, and most definitely filthy rich in fresh material for literary discussion. Hamid, born in 1971, was reared in both America and Pakistan and educated at Princeton and Harvard Law. He currently lives in Lahore yet writes in English, and has described himself as "geographically transgendered." Straddling multiple cultures has enabled him to speak to a wider, more diverse audience.

There's a line in Hamid's cunning first novel, "Moth Smoke," (first published in 2000 and recently reissued in paperback), that captures his ironic treatment of dishonesty and the rampant corruption in his native Pakistan: " 'I never lie,' I lied."  It's spoken by his main character, a banker in Lahore, to his best friend's wife, with whom he soon falls into an obsessive affair, part of a downward spiral that includes losing his job and sliding into debauchery and drug dealing.

Even at their most roguish, Hamid's characters can be charming – or at least sympathetic, if not actually admirable. His second novel, "The Reluctant Fundamentalist," concerns a young Pakistani graduate of Princeton thriving in corporate New York until September 11th upends his world. By applying a disarmingly light touch to his exploration of serious issues about class, power, violence, decadence, and religious fundamentalism, Hamid has become an appealing voice of contemporary Pakistan.

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