“How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia” is a beautiful novel written by the brilliant South Asian novelist, Mohsin Hamid. The unique thing is it is written on the style of a self-help book and every chapter begins with a new advice of a motivational book. All the 12 chapters are titled in the form of a self-help advice like:
Move to the City
Get an Education
Don’t fall in love
Learn from a Master
Work for yourself
Be prepared to use violence
Befriend a bureaucrat
Patronize the artist of war
Dance with Debt
Focus on the fundamentals
Have an exit strategy
Another unusual aspect is both the main characters of the novel are not given any names. Rather, following a self-help book’s style, the name of the main character is You.
In fact, all the mentioned above chapters are different stages of You’s life, who emerges as a self-made entrepreneur. He is born poor as a child of a cook and a house maid, who have, fortunately, move to the city from their village. Here, as the youngest sibling among the three, he gets an opportunity to education rather than obligating to share the earning burden as his elder brother has to do. After his early college years, he has to leave his education for work. Soon, he starts his own business of pure drinking water that flourishes over a period of time, until by his midlife years, he is among the business tycoons. He is shrewd enough to learn from his on-hand experience and knows how to make his way through a corrupt social and economic system.
In his teen years, he falls madly in love with another nameless character as Pretty Girl. She has the similar poor family background as his, who starts her journey as a model and by her midlife years she opens and runs a furniture outlet very successfully. Off and on they keep on meeting each other, though pursuing their unconnected lives. You gets married to a lovely girl of half his age, who proves herself as a wonderful housewife and committed mother. Unfortunately, they both couldn’t make a really happy and fulfilling life together just because they were not each other’s type. Gap between them widens over the years until both have separate lives under one roof. He is too occupied with his business and tries to find his satisfaction in paid relationships while missing the Pretty Girl throughout his life.
Contrarily, his wife finds solace in religion and spends her time with religious organizations and activities. When her only son goes abroad after his local education, she gets a divorce from You and gets married to a likeminded religious person.
The relationship-oriented Pretty Girl has a hi-fi company, but she can never settle down with a committed relationship as marriage.
You remains single rest of his life after his wife leaves him. And, finally, in his old age he has to squeeze his business as he has no one to depend on for this purpose. In his last days, he meets the Pretty Girl again and they spend a few months together.
Seeing You’s longing for the Pretty Girl, a reader expects that a twist will bring both of the lovers together. But surprisingly, despite missing her badly, You never thinks of pursing her. In the beginning, the reader justifies that he is not a match to the Pretty Girl due to his lower financial and social status than hers, but even after becoming an equal to her in his midlife, he never gives it a thought despite feeling very strongly about her, which is very surprising. Perhaps, he can never listens to his inner voice.
Another aspect is strange; as a Muslim reader, one expects that even a so-called Muslim in a Pakistan society is expected to be spiritual and religious by his old age years, as it is time to return to his Lord (Allah). But he seems engaged with the worldly matters till the end. The question is, in the last 2 decades of his life when he was prosperous enough, why doesn’t he take his personal life and happiness as his priority. When his wife leaves him, why doesn’t he plan a life for him as well that is fulfilling not only financially but emotionally and religiously, like he could have married the love of his life, the Pretty Girl?
Both the main characters of You & Pretty Girl portray an atheist approach of life that very few people live in our society. Mohsin Hamid might choose it to engage a wider audience around the world.
Mohsin Hamid has created an impressive text through simple but long and loaded sentences. As compared to his other two novels, here he doesn’t use metaphoric language more often. Yet, all the scenes are vivid, detailed and interconnected like a high resolution movie.
The plot is interesting and captivating till the end. The story moves smoothly from chapter to chapter without much twist, highlighting the struggle and conflicts of various characters with authenticity in the context of complicated Pakistani social dilemmas.