What do you get when you cross "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," the cynical musical comedy, with "Behind the Beautiful Forevers," the award-winning portrait of life among India's most abject?
I can think of only one person who would even dream up such a hybrid: the brilliant Pakistani writer Mohsin Hamid.
"How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia" is Hamid's third novel, following the acclaimed "Moth Smoke" and "The Reluctant Fundamentalist," the latter an eye-opening and spellbinding 9/11 tale shortlisted for the Booker Prize. The film by Mira Nair comes out in April.
In his latest, Hamid focuses on a wretched, diseased, yet ambitious child of the Indian subcontinent, picking him up by the scruff of his neck and advising him in the brisk, imperious tones of a self-help manual on how to improve his lot. The invisible mentor follows this unnamed boy up the ladder of success with new admonishments for each rung: "Learn From a Master," "Don't Fall in Love," "Be Prepared to Use Violence," "Befriend a Bureaucrat" and "Dance With Debt" are some of the chapter titles. Though the ending does contain one sweet surprise, it is no spoiler to reveal that "How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia" does not have the joyous finale of the musical comedy it resembles.
In its cleverness, its slightly cruel satire and its complex understanding of both Western and Eastern paradigms, "How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia" is pure Hamid. After spending part of his childhood in California, the author studied at Princeton and Harvard and worked in finance in New York and London before returning to live in Lahore, Pakistan. He seems to know the worst and best of both cultures, and his storytelling style is both timeless and contemporary, a postmodern Scheherazade.
According to Hamid, a novel is co-created by the writer and the reader. Three novels in, I really enjoy working with him and spending time in his world.