Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid says his new book is about “you”, the reader. The book, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, which is all set to be launched in March, is about 70 years in a man’s life — a story that anyone can relate to. Hamid says that while the book itself does not specify who or where the character is, he wants readers to have their own interpretation.
“The story is about a place that may very well be like Lahore, but it will never say so,” said Hamid at Karachi Literature Festival earlier this month, where the unofficial launch of the book took place. “I did not want to use brand names because I wanted the reader to be free to come up with their own perceptions of it.”
The story follows the template of the life of a young boy from rural poverty to considerable wealth and then to death. Each chapter follows a phase in his life and the character is seen as a vehicle for the reader who learns about how to get rich.
“I don’t think there is more of a drive to get rich in South Asia as there is for quicker change. There is a lot of insecurity, so there is this brutal upward and out sentiment,” explains Hamid. “It’s an environment in which everyone is obsessed with money.”
The idea for the book dawned on Hamid when he was at a party in New York with a friend, an editor at a literary magazine, as they laughed about the difficulties of literature. “We joked about how hard writing literary fiction can be and I told him that my next novel will be about self-help,” says Hamid. “The more I thought about it, the more I explored the idea. Fiction is kind of like self-help.”
Like his other novels, Hamid uses a different narrative voice and writes How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia in second person. “I never want to do a book twice; so each time when I try to write differently, I don’t know what I am doing and I struggle for years,” explains Hamid.
The Princeton graduate’s first novel, Moth Smoke, published in 2001, was an instant hit. It tells a story about an ex-banker living in post-nuclear test Lahore who falls in love with his best friend’s wife and turns to heroin abuse. The book has been tabbed to be adapted for screens by Indian director Rahul Bose.
“They will hopefully start filming this year,” says Hamid. “It was supposed to start in fall, but then was delayed.”
In 2007, he published his second novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which is about a Pakistani man who leaves his successful career in the US after a tragically failed relationship and the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The book has become an international best-seller and has also been adapted by film-maker Mira Nair for a Hollywood film of the same name.
“Some people say that my books are filmic and that you can easily see a movie in them; but they are not structured like films,” says Hamid. “The story may be cinematic, but the actual novel is not. To excavate a cinematic story out of The Reluctant Fundamentalist was tricky. It required several different screenwriters and a few years to get a working screenplay out of it.” Since he typically uses different forms of narration, the process becomes challenging.
While he is confident in experimenting with different forms of writing, Hamid is also unafraid to voice his political opinions. “I think politics is hitting us over our heads in Pakistan,” he says. “Even if you don’t do anything, you will have to take the hit on the hand; and most people I know do something, but I see that as being a citizen [Pakistani].”
Hamid also explains how he wants his readers to perceive his books. “The writing itself is separate from activism,” he says. “I don’t want my books to be instruction manuals telling readers that this is how you should act or this is what you should believe.”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 24th, 2013.
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