Thursday, August 22, 2013

Book Review: How to get filthy rich in rising Asia

It has been a long time since I posted here- blame it on life and getting busy! Or maybe, blame it on having nothing to say. Or maybe, too much to say and do and not enough time for either. Blame games aside, I have been doing a lot of reading despite the busyness, maybe one of the few things that still keeps me sane.

Apart from my usual cache of romantic trash and chick-lit, my other passion is books related to/based in South Asia (as regular reader(s) of this blog know). I am a bit late to the party when it comes to Mohsin Hamid, not having read his first two books, especially The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which is really famous and now a movie. I chanced upon his latest book, How to get filthy rich in rising Asia, at the library recently, and spent many a midnight reading it. Despite my best intentions not to while away nights reading, and sleep instead, this was one book that defied my ideas. I don't know how to describe the pull of the book, it wasn't enthralling or thrilling or mesmerizing. But it was unputdownable. It pulled me in slowly but surely into its web, till I was caught deep within the lives of its characters. It spun its web around me, holding me captive, involving and engaging me till I lived and breathed with the protagonist. It made me care.

The book is written in the second person with no names, just our Hero ("you" in the book) and our Heroine ("pretty girl") living out their destinies in an unnamed expanding cosmopolitan city in Asia. Both are driven by ambition to get out of their poverty stricken neighborhood, and adopt all possible paths to achieve their ends. Hero wants to be filthy rich, Heroine wants to be rich and famous. And off they travel on their paths. The book illustrates these paths, which are specific and peculiar to the socio-cultural-political dynamics of Asia (India, maybe?)

He holds up a mirror to current society in India (if it is indeed India- maybe because I am Indian I could see India in every word that he had written). The politics, the bribery, the violence, the cheating, religious and social divides, caste and class schisms, gender dynamics... yes, he shows what current India is all about. He shows how our Hero and Heroine traverse these minefields of class, money and power as they go about making money, making a name, getting rich and richer.

It is hard to describe the story- maybe the story is not as impactful as the manner of its deliverance, the prose that is so powerful and eloquent. Hamid is clearly a master of the craft of penmanship, almost every sentence in the book is like a gem. These studded sentences come together to create a piece of sumptuous handcrafted jewelry. Yes, I guess that is where the book's spell comes from. Not from the story, but from the prose. It is the joy and wonder and enthrallment that comes from reading something so wondrously written. Hamid uses the English language to create his massive web, that entangles and engages endlessly.

Is that what great writers do? Is that what great prose is? I remember the story, but loved the writing. He may have effectively shown the state of India/Asia, but the manner of doing so is way more fascinating. There is such depth to his writing, wherein one can jump in and explore the prose. Or maybe, savor it. Put each sentence on your tongue and let it melt, as it explodes with hidden meaning. Layer upon layer of prose unfurls to create new sensations, new emotions. Yes, maybe, I wasn't reading the book, I was eating it!

(Image Source: