Title: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia
Author: Mohsin Hamid
Narrator: Mohsin Hamid
Audiobook Length: 4 hours, 34 minutes
Genre: Literary Fiction
Origins: Penguin Audio
Bottom Line: Mediocre audiobook but the story provides excellent insight into modern business practices and sentiments with plenty of fodder for discussion.
“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.”
Thoughts: In How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, Mohsin Hamid turns Horatio Alger stories on their head. Gone is the story of a boy finding success through virtuous good deeds, ethical behavior, and hard work. In its place is the story of a nameless hero – a young boy trapped by poverty pushed into business by his ambitious father who eventually uses any means necessary to grow his business and expand his empire. While there is a heavy moral to the ending, the lack of virtue and ethics is the most striking feature of this parable, and a reader with familiarity of the business world should neither be surprised nor outraged at the inevitable twists in the hapless hero’s life. As depressing as it may be to realize, this is Horatio Alger for the twenty-second century.
In some reviews, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia has been described as comedic, but that description is fraught with potential misunderstanding. Mr. Hamid’s novel is not a comedy by any stretch of the imagination. While some readers might see the humor in the multitude of sarcasm that permeates the story or even in some of the more absurd situations within which the nameless hero finds himself, the biting social commentary is not meant to amuse so much as it is meant to expose and enlighten. It mocks the plethora of business self-help books which whittle such monumental subjects as success, leadership, and management down to small, easily digestible – and yet still difficult to achieve – bites. Those readers opening the pages expecting a hilarious parody will be unpleasantly surprised to find just how serious the subject matter becomes. Those reviewers who have labeled How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia as funny are truly doing the entire novel a disservice.
As the narrator, Mohsin Hamid is adequate. His voice is pleasant, and he exceeds at projecting the forthrightness of the narrator. However, his voice does not have the dynamism that lends itself well to audiobook narration – the kind of voice that captures one attention and forces one listen to each word in the story. If anything, Mr. Hamid has a tendency to delve into the monotonous, thereby making it easy for listeners to focus on their own thoughts rather than on the plot. As it is a fairly short novel, missing even one paragraph can be detrimental, which makes the rather tedious narration a fairly fatal flaw in the overall audiobook. Similarly, because the entire novel is meant to be a satire on self-help books, the audiobook format is not the most conducive to allowing listeners the chance to appreciate the wit and mockery put forth by Mr. Hamid in his written words. Mr. Hamid’s own presentation is just too earnest. While he does a decent job narrating his story, one cannot help but wonder at just how much more enlightening or even enjoyable the story would have been had someone else more dynamic narrated the audiobook, if not question outright whether this is one novel better served in print. In all, it is a fairly disappointing and altogether forgettable audiobook experience.
Perhaps it is directly because of the weaknesses in the audiobook, but How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia in its entirety is rather inadequate. The second person narrator does not blend well with the nameless hero, creating distance between reader and novel and having the exact opposite effect intended with the use of the second person narrative. While this rags-to-riches story is tongue-in-cheek and meant to critique those willing to set aside morals and ethics in lieu of greed, there is an underlying earnestness to the story that is upsetting, as if Mr. Hamid’s interpretation is the only method by which someone can succeed. In the end, it is difficult to discern whether the story is meant as a warning or an allegory of possibility. That being said, Mr. Hamid provides plenty to ponder and much fodder for discussion within his relatively short text. It is easy to see why it is building a fan base and generating interest. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is not a book meant to be taken at face value or even to stand exposed to its first layer. A reader must delve deep into the narration to get the most out of it, and even in spite of its flaws, the effort will result in a modicum of reward.