Booker shortlisted author gives his take on love, money and self-improvement
EVERY person has this sort of experience: you arrive somewhere new, somewhere strange, full of anticipation and hope and then you meet someone who is the antithesis of almost all that.
The cynic as you might seem them sits you down and tells you some hard truths, but amidst all of that there are still traces of joy, sweet reckonings and even talk of mildly camouflaged “achievements”.
Welcome to the world in Mohsin Hamid’s new novel, ‘How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia‘. This novel is the author’s eagerly waited follow-up to his booker shortlisted, The Relucntant Fundamentalist, which hits the big screen in May with director Mira Nair translating the book into action.
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is a novel boldly written in the style of a manual of self-improvement, with chapters marked imploringly (as such books are) ‘Don’t Fall in Love’, ‘Get An Education’ and ‘Avoid Idealists’.
Hamid’s dry, wry, cynical tone is that of an old college hand you bump into as a fresher at the bar or café and who then proceeds to tell you exactly how to negotiate the world that is about to befall you (even if you hadn’t asked).
And yet as Razia Iqbal, the BBC’s arts correspondent, quizzed him earlier in April at the preview event of the Festival of Asian Literature (May 7-22) at Asia House in London, there is a tender love story.
Largely placeless, it is also a story about self improvement, how you move from one class to another and perhaps most tellingly, it is really about the movement from the countryside to the city, the most pervasive experience for billions of people in Asia today.
“It is a secular expression of the things I have grown up with in Pakistan,” said the Lahore based writer, who studied in the US and has lived in both California and London.
However, the novel is not set in any fixed or clearly identifiable geographical place – it is essentially about a very common type of experience for millions of people who move from the countryside to the City, in search of their dreams and yes…their riches.
Despite the surface emphasis on money, self improvement and material gain, beneath all that is a far deeper perspective on how we as human beings make and construct ourselves (with stories). “It’s how we relate to people, through stories,” Hamid pointed out.
The story in this new book centres around a young man who leaves his village and heads for the city with his family and it’s there that he meets an enchanting and enchanted young girl who becomes the central figure of love in the novel. Her agenda is somewhat different to his, at least in the beginning.
Iqbal felt the book was essentially a love story that had a much darker, more brutal and cold exterior and whether the contrast between the internal world of feelings and emotions and the outer harsher regime of reality was thoroughly deliberate.
“I am not trying to damn capitalism,” responded Hamid. “There are two sales pitches for love (in the book),” he joked.
One is about possessing, wanting someone as a possession, the other is more tender and abstract – the “I would die for you” sentiment, explained Hamid. As a new father, and watching his own parents become grandparents had sparked the idea of exploring a different form of love and the different shapes it can take.
Hamid spoke to a packed hall of more than 80 people at Asia House, which hosts a Festival of Asian Literature until May 22.
*Mohsin Hamid, ‘How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia’, Riverhead Books, (March 2013)