Like John Green says in his most recent Vlogbrother’s video:
In the anthropocene, there are no disinterested observers. There are only participants. When people write reviews, they are really writing a kind of memoir. Here is what my experience was….
I think I would do a disservice to both Hamid and myself to discuss this wonderful novel without first explaining myself. I have to confess: the books that I most thoroughly enjoy are self-help books and South Asian literature. I feel as if one propels me into my future and one into my past, even as I read in the present. My ambition for every day development is grounded in my parents and I’s experiences in India. In Mohsin Hamid’s How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, that two-fold sentiment is wonderfully captured in the protagonist: me. Or at least, what feels like me through Hamid’s immensely creative storytelling.
Mohsin Hamid’s novel takes place entirely in second-person: its setting is not in some faraway land but your mind. Describing itself as a self-book, the story is centered on you: a boy born in rural Asia at the cusp of both its rapid development and mine. The help it describes is of singular focus: getting rich. This frame encompasses the story and provides it the structure it needs when it lacks so many elements of traditional story telling. The characters and locale are nameless, barely given labels–“little boy” and “pretty girl”–as substitutes, yet this emptiness further invites me into the story, the story truly molded around me more than any actual self-help book ever has.
Encompassing the entire life of the protagonist is a daunting task, yet Hamid executes the jumps of time and space effortlessly through partitioning of discrete separation of life events and lessons into separate chapters. Looking back at the novel though, I realize that there are two protagonists: both me and the namesake rising Asia. Though remaining thinly-veiled, the setting of post-colonial Pakistan provides the backdrop of hustle and grit that provides the entire novel its plot and does so accurately and without frills.
The only complaint that I have with the story is the length. Though much of the novel is spent on the protagonist’s rise to prominence, the chapters lack the depth that I was expecting in the end, where arguably more development can occur. Maybe my youth hinders my understanding, but I can relate less to the character the further in the novel, while at the beginning of the novel, I can imagine that boy within myself, the boy left behind when my parents emigrated from India.
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia accomplishes what many novels fail to do–put the reader in the place of the protagonist–by fully committing the structure of a second-person narrative. I never grew up reading those choose-your-own adventure novels as a child, and this structure, along with its self-referential nature draw me in. I can almost guarantee it will draw you in too. 4/5.