How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is a delightful and hilarious story—a fun, quick read—and a brilliant microscope on the insanity of raw capitalism and declining empire. Here is part of an interview conducted before publication with the author Mohsin Hamid:
“You never specify your protagonist’s homeland in this case. Was that a deliberate choice? How specific and how universal have you been in your account of the boy’s surroundings and situation?”
Hamid: My first novel does have a few pages set in New York, and my second is largely about events in New York, even though it takes the form of a one-sided conversation in a Pakistani café. So this is the first time I’ve set a novel entirely in one country. I wanted to use Pakistan as a template, but not be bound by it. Not having any names in the novel, except for continent names, was a way for me to de-exoticize the context, to see it fresh. You have to think differently when there’s religion but no words “Islam” or “Christianity,” food but no Afghani tikka or Wiener schnitzel, beloveds but no Laila or Juliet. I wanted to find my way to something universal, and since I work with words, I tried to teach myself through selective abstinence.
“The boy at the center of The Third-Born (the New Yorker story based on the novel’s early chapters) has little chance of leaving his homeland to study abroad, or of becoming a banker in his twenties. What was it like to examine the way society functions from another part of the spectrum? Does chance play as powerful a role in those lives as it does in this one?”
Hamid: Chance plays a powerful role in every life — our brains and personalities are just chemical soup, after all; a few drops here or there matter enormously-but consequences often become more serious as income levels go down. The new novel is about seventy years in a man’s life, but because it’s all set in the historical present, it could also be the stories of a dozen different people at a dozen different levels of society, all occurring right now. I wanted to see what happens when you fuse a lifelong saga with a society-wide one. Two segmentations: one along time, the other along class, operating simultaneously. Like slicing an apple on two axes, the vertical of an individual and the horizontal of a community, to see what kind of fruit it really is on the inside. What kind of fruit I really am. A nutty one, clearly.