Tuesday, September 6, 2016
Narrated by Mohsin Hamed
Published March 2013 by Penguin Publishing
Source: my audiobook purchased at my library book sale
The astonishing and riveting tale of a man’s journey from impoverished rural boy to corporate tycoon, it steals its shape from the business self-help books devoured by ambitious youths all over “rising Asia.” It follows its nameless hero to the sprawling metropolis where he begins to amass an empire built on that most fluid, and increasingly scarce, of goods: water. Yet his heart remains set on something else, on the pretty girl whose star rises along with his, their paths crossing and recrossing, a lifelong affair sparked and snuffed and sparked again by the forces that careen their fates along.
I was wow'd by Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist so I knew it would be then next audiobook I would listen to as soon as I saw it. Like The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the book is written in the second person, here not even naming any of his characters. I admire Hamid's ability to write from interesting new points of view. I also admire his ability to be political without being overt, to blend here a love story with the story of a world in flux, and his ability to make readers care about a character that is less than admirable.
"Less than admirable" is, Hamid is clear, not necessarily a bad person. Our hero is a man who sees, all around him, the toll that being poor exacts and the unscrupulous means that others will use to take advantage of those in need and the opportunities that life provides. Those same people whose palms had to be greased on the way up and who will also be happy to pull back down those who have become successful.
We're never told where our nameless character lives but that, too, is hardly important. Here's the thing - we can look at the way people take advantage of others, the shortcuts they take, the rules they will break, and judge them as wrong, as evil people. But if you know the history of the United States (and, for that matter, any other world power), you know that exactly the same kinds of things happened here as this country grew and prospered.
Perhaps my favorite thing about this book is "the pretty girl" who remains "the pretty girl" to the end of the book, to her death as an elderly woman. Because, to our hero, despite the years and anything she might have done to survive and prosper, she remained the pretty girl. Wouldn't we all like to think that our beloveds will still think of us that way when our hair is grey, our faces are wrinkled, and we need a cane to walk?
In the end, How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia didn't wow me in the same way that The Reluctant Fundamentalist did. But it certainly has something to say about our world and it is certainly well said.