Love and Ambition in a Cruel New World

Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times:

BookMohsin Hamid’s 2007 novel, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” was an artful tour de force, a lapidary monologue delivered by a young Princeton-educated Pakistani that opened out to become a puzzlelike exploration of identity, and a suspenseful, post-Sept. 11 meditation on the nervous, mutually suspicious dynamic between America and the Muslim world. Mr. Hamid’s new novel, “How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia,” also tells a compelling story that works on two levels — in this case as a deeply moving and highly specific tale of love and ambition, and as a larger, metaphorical look at the mind-boggling social and economic changes sweeping “rising Asia.”

Set in an unnamed country that resembles Pakistan the novel chronicles the 70-odd-year-long life of an unnamed hero who journeys from an impoverished village to a sprawling city and who makes — and loses — a fortune in the water (“bottled hydration”) business. The story is couched as a kind of self-help book and told in the second person, with a protagonist referred to only as “you.” What might initially seem like a clumsy narrative technique is actually a device that allows Mr. Hamid to zoom in and out from his hero’s life, as though he were using a telephoto lens, moving in to give us up-close-and-personal glimpses of “you’s” enduring relationship with a woman he meets when they are teenagers (she is always referred to as “the pretty girl”) then moving back to show us the ways in which his entrepreneurial career mirrors that of millions of others as they become part of a new urbanized demographic that is changing the shape of the world.

More here.