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How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

Mohsin Hamid’s new novel raises perennial questions about the sacrifices we make to get ahead.

(originally published by Booz & Company)

It’s always enlightening—and enjoyable—to read business literature that actually qualifies as literature. And Mohsin Hamid’s new novel fits the bill perfectly.

Hamid, whose previous novels, The Moth Smoke  and The Reluctant Fundamentalist, were shortlisted for several major literary awards, including the Booker Prize, creatively appropriates the self-help format in How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia. It’s the life story of an unnamed man, an amoral Horatio Alger who is born to a poor family in a rural village in a country that sounds a lot like India (but could be any developing nation with an emerging economy).

Our hero’s father, who works as a personal servant and sends his wages home to support his family, eventually brings his family to the city—the first step in Hamid’s tongue-in-cheek reworking of the hackneyed how-to-get-rich scheme. Even as a teenager, our hero is determined and ambitious: When he meets the “pretty girl” who he will be obsessed with for the rest of his life, he doesn’t allow love to divert him from his quest—the second step in Hamid’s scheme.

Step by step, our hero achieves his goal in the same way that many people whose highest priority is getting rich and have only their wits to rely on achieved it before him: He does whatever it takes, sacrificing his happiness and his virtue along the way. So, what kind of life does our hero end up living? Is there ever an end to his quest to get rich? And what does he have in the end if he cannot hold onto his riches?    

These are some of the questions that Mohsin Hamid considers in How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia. It’s a short, sparely written work of business literature that prompts you to consider your priorities and choices in life in a far more entertaining and compelling way than any actual self-help book that I can recall.

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