How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

As in his fiendishly clever and biting The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid's How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia combines extremely lean prose and a wry sense of irony to create a dramatic monologue with a wickedly satirical vision of modern times.

None of the characters are named. The central character--who's writing a self-help book called How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia--gives the other figures in his story simple labels: pretty girl, leader, matriarch, master. His how-to-succeed guide turns out to be exceptionally rich in the savage ironies of poverty. The narrator's brother is slowly killing himself working without a mask as an assistant to a spray painter, while his schoolteacher really wants to be an electricity meter reader, because of the greater prestige, graft opportunities and higher wages.

Starting with a night job as a DVD delivery boy, the narrator makes his way up the economic ladder while courting the girl of his dreams with movie rentals. Hamid can be a biting satirist, but he also knows how to infuse his characters with genuine warmth and pathos, and never reduces them to mere symbols in a brutal capitalist fable.

Hamid's novel is a vision of a new, very modern kind of civilization designed for the have-plentys, where the have-nothings survive amid electrical outages and contaminated water in a society that accepts hugely divergent inequality as normal. Hamid has a vast compassion for the wretched, and his story, horrifying in its casual description of abject lives, is a cry for compassion cloaked in a savage smile. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle, Wash.

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