A Review of How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

by Ashish

Keen eyed readers of the blog will note – or, strictly speaking, keen eyed readers of this blog who-also-happen-to-be-well-aware-of-the-literary-world will note that this is the first time an attempt is being made at reviewing a work of fiction.

And they will be absolutely right – your author, although he does go in for the reading thing a fair bit, isn’t racking up the miles in the fiction department. He’ll devour  books by the ton on stuff that is non-fiction, informative and thought provoking, but he’ll look like an Indian opener on foreign tracks when it comes to fiction.

Why then should I go about reviewing a book such as this – a fictitious tale about a gent who goes through a rags-to-riches tale in some unidentified part of Asia? (By the way, if you want to dazzle folks with your vocabulary, memorize this word: bildungsroman. It means the same thing, roughly, as a rags-to-riches story, but sounds so much more impressive. Helpful when you want to nail the interview . Not so much when you are on a date.)

I should go about reviewing it because while it is fiction, it is also enormously informative – not in a direct, descriptive fashion, but rather a narrative, pick-it-up-if-you-can-spot-it fashion. Trying to explain why I like the book brings to mind something the late, great critic of the movies Roger Ebert used to say about, well, movies.

“Don’t ask what the movie is about”, he’d say. “Ask, instead, how it is about whatever it is about”. Or something along those lines – the point that he wished to make was, don’t decide whether a movie is worth your time on the basis of what it is about – base your decision, rather, on how it goes about telling the tale. Does it observe more than it narrates? Does it convey more than the just the linear arc of a story? What does it convey?

And in this case, Mohsid Hamin conveys the nuances associated with living a life that begins in abject poverty, reaches relative affluence, and ends in the poverty of old age – a paucity of people, passion and ultimately, purpose. The question that Ebert says you shouldn’t be asking in the first place is easily answered – it is about a man who spends his life living the arc just described.

The question that Ebert says you should ask is, as all good questions are, a little more difficult to answer in regard to this book. Written as a parody of self-help books, and in the second person, it is a book that is an enjoyable read in and of itself. The tale is well-told (as far as I’m concerned, at any rate) and remains entertaining until the last page. It isn’t drab enough to make you give up reading it altogether, and neither is it such a page turner that you’d wish to move on to the last page.

The reason I liked the book so much is because it does a very good job of describing various facets of life in a developing country.

And the description of that one life is fairly illuminating – right from the first chapter, wherein the protagonist (“you”) is suffering from hepatitis, up until the very end, when death claims “you”, as it eventually must. In the interim, it touches and illuminates family size (and the reason it is shrinking), employment opportunities (and how cities always provide them, one way or the other), love and marriage (and why the two can grow apart in an urban context) along with corruption (and its inevitability), government (and its frustrations) and markets(and how they’ll crop up everywhere).

Hamin conveys the problems and the advantages that one is saddled with at each stage, as corollaries to each station in life that one aspires to and acquires. This isn’t, then, a book filled with great, immutable truths. It isn’t an exercise in philosophy, and it isn’t meant to reveal some deep, subliminal message. It is a book filled with a tale of life as it is in parts of Asia today, and the reason I liked it so much is because it is as much about the life here, as it is about the tale itself.