How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia
Mohsin Hamid's wry novel is accessible as well as exotic.
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The thwarted love story that flickers through the novel is more engaging, humanizing the protagonist and providing a sweetly sentimental counterbalance to the book's sobering trajectory, which encompasses "the reality that with age things are snatched from a man, often suddenly and without warning." The consummately practical pretty girl's pursuit of a modeling career – followed by acting, a television cooking show, and a high-end home furnishings boutique – requires strategic liaisons, which means that although she initiates sex with her old friend on several occasions when their paths cross over the years, she won't allow herself to be held back by something as elemental as love. Yes, "the pursuit of love and the pursuit of wealth have much in common," the taskmaster penning Hamid's narrative admits, including "the potential to inspire, motivate, uplift, and kill." But, he insists – just one of many dubious points – that love is a distraction to be avoided.Skip to next paragraph
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Hamid's water-industrialist's enduring attachment to this ever-changing "pretty girl" recalls Mario Vargas Llosa's wonderful novel "The Bad Girl," which details the difficult, eponymous "mala niña's" damaging lifelong hold on his narrator. Vargas Llosa's tale of frustrated love, underpinned by decades of social turmoil, revolutions, and the recurrent heartbreak of failed democracy in his native Peru, becomes a sort of extended allegory for an undauntable desire not just for love, but for freedom.
Hamid's engaging saga of the vicissitudes of life set against a backdrop of corruption and increased violence ultimately takes a more personal, less political turn. Even though his mock how-to spells out a path toward triumphing over poverty, the underlying irony is the hollowness of such success. Beneath its insouciant tone, "How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia" offers a surprisingly heartfelt conclusion: In the end, what really matters is not the business connections you make in this world but the deeper, loving relationships that demonstrate "the capacity for empathy" and going "beyond yourself." Which surely is a universal message, relevant to even the most hesitant armchair traveler.