Even though his latest novel is titled How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, Mohsin Hamid is no Warren Buffet of the East; his book isn’t really going to help you get filthy rich. The first hint of this comes from two words on the cover, right after the title: A Novel. “I did a radio interview where the host hadn’t yet read the book and started asking me for stock picks and where to invest in Asia,” Hamid chuckles. The confusion is understandable. Hamid has the urbane demeanor and business-like speak of lawyers and consultants (perhaps because he’s played both those roles in the past). But he’s also a natural storyteller. “When I was growing up, I would get an atlas and map out an imaginary country,” he recalls, “and then imagine all kinds of details—what kind of people would live there, what its exports were, what the climate and topography were like, what language its people would speak.”
His latest book is on a similar imagination overdrive. It reads like a self-help book, pretending to help you—yes, you—maneuver the chance-and-choice game of making it big in Asia. But one page in, you realize this is a story (albeit one without any names or specific places), a rags-to-riches story of a village boy that’s also a love story that’s also a comment on the turbulent truths of socially changing Asia. “There are forks in the road to wealth that have nothing to do with choice or desire or effort, forks that have to do with chance, and in your case, the order of your birth is one of these,” Hamid writes. Being a third-born you’re spared from working as a painter’s assistant (like your brother), you don’t end up “a tiny skeleton in a small grave at the base of a tree” like your youngest sibling and most importantly, you get to stay in school, which, Hamid writes, is a “running leap towards becoming filthy rich in rising Asia.”
Hamid grew up equal parts in America and Pakistan. He studied at Princeton (where he started writing his first book, Moth Smoke) and Harvard Law School, before working as a management consultant in New York and London. It’s while in London that he published his internationally best-selling second novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which was shortlisted for the 2007 Booker Prize and was made into a motion picture earlier this year.
It also cued his move to becoming a full-time writer, having a daughter and heading back to Lahore in Pakistan to live with his parents, all of which, in some way, led to his latest book. “I think living in Lahore, getting older, being a middle-aged man, with children, with aging parents gave me permission to write this story of the full arc of a life from birth to death,” he muses. Writing full-time also meant that he could unplug completely from the wormhole that is the Internet and go for two-hour-long solitary walks (motivated by accounts of Haruki Murakami’s running) to get his creative energy in a frenzy. But he’s still not convinced it’s possible to write for a living. “I'm doing it now but in five or 10 years I might find I need to get a job,” he confesses.
Nidhi Chaudhry is a freelance writer based in New York. Follow her on Twitter.