How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (review)

If Tyler Cowen, Austin Kleon, and Ben Casnocha all recommend a book, I don’t really need another nudge. I loooooooved Mohsin Hamid‘s How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.

Two structural things you don’t see very often in fiction: it’s written in the second person, and the novel’s chapter titles and general format are plays on the self-help genre (“Move to the City”, “Get an Education”, “Don’t Fall in Love”). In the story, the protagonist (uh…”you”) is a third-world scrub who gradually climbs his way up the social ladder. I really appreciated the perspective on economics and daily life in a world that that’s not all that familiar.

Some favorite parts:

You read a self-help book so someone who isn’t yourself can help you, that someone being the author.

Some understated humor on receiving bad news:

You take this news as well as possible, which is to say you do not die.

So much awesome imagery and color in this one. As in this classroom scene, where students look on as one of their classmates gets on the wrong side of their teacher:

They watch in horrified fascination, like seals on a rock observing a great white breaching beneath one of their own, just a short swim away.

On becoming a parent:

Fatherhood has taught you the lesson that, even in middle age, love is practicable. It is possible to adore those newly come into your world, to envision, no matter how late in the day, a happily entwined future with those who have not been part of your past.

On books:

Writers and readers seek a solution to the the problem that time passes, that those of us who have gone are gone and those who will go, which is to say every one of us, will go. For there was a moment when anything was possible. And there will be a moment when nothing is possible. But in between we can create.

On taking out a business loan:

With borrowed funds, a business can invest, gain leverage, and leverage is a pair of wings. Leverage is flight. Leverage is a way for small to be big and big to be huge, a glorious abstraction, the promise of tomorrow today, yes, a liberation from time, the resounding triumph of human will over dreary, chronology-shackled physical reality.

That passage hints at what’s particularly hard to capture: the restless energy in this book. It just keeps coming and coming, so much invention, and it’s so fun to read. I wouldn’t be surprised if I reread this one soon.