Moth Smoke (2000), The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007), How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (2013)
I tore through these books in about a week and a half. Mohsin Hamid‘s prose has got it. Not only was I totally invested in his characters’ lives–I could have spent hundreds more pages in every book, particularly the most recent–but I also learned about civilian life in Pakistan, too rarely covered in American media.
I am so thoroughly fascinated by Hamid’s use of the second-person point of view in all three novels, and in the progression of that perspective from book to book. In Moth Smoke, “you” are invited to be the judge, literal and figurative, of protagonist Daru’s crimes; in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, “you” are both the listener and perhaps the assassin of protagonist Changez; in How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, “you” are the protagonist, the recipient of self-help advice over the course of a lifetime.
Hamid is doing something wonderful here, forcing the reader into the story, bringing him/her closer to its heart every time. I will be thrilled to see what he does with perspective in his next book. I think I’ll have to reflect on this further in a separate essay.
A master class in:
Variations on a theme. To my mind, all three books are love stories masquerading as rags-to-riches narratives, featuring foreign (usually American) higher education, upper-class tawdriness, religious fundamentalism, nuclear rumblings–and a girl. Always a girl around whom the desire for wealth becomes a secondary concern, even if the bulk of each book’s page space is devoted to that more mercenary desire, examining what money means both for the character and for Pakistan. But the element we’re really rooting for in all three novels is the love story. That’s a very human message Hamid is championing, beneath the trappings of cars and drugs and investment portfolios.
“And how strange that when I imagine, I feel. The capacity for empathy is a funny thing.” – How to Get Filthy Rich
“The day you texted the pretty girl on her mobile to inform her of your impending wedding, the pretty girl was surprised, given how little you and she had come to speak in recent years, by the strength of her sadness. …Still, she texted you back to wish you happiness.” – How to Get Filthy Rich
“Your sister turns to look at you. …She smiles and you smile in return, your faces small ovals of the familiar in an otherwise unrecognizable world. You think your sister is trying to reassure you. It does not occur to you, young as you are, that it is she who needs reassurance.” – How to Get Filthy Rich
“I wanted my share of that respect [accorded Americans] as well. So I learned to tell executives my father’s age, ‘I need it now‘; …I learned to answer, when asked where I was from, that I was from New York.” – The Reluctant Fundamentalist
“There’s a reason prophets perform miracles: language lacks the power to describe faith.” – Moth Smoke
“…learning that I was a good writer…[was like] feeling new muscles growing in my back, wing muscles, the kind that mean you’re learning to fly.” – Moth Smoke
“There are two social classes in Pakistan. …The first group, large and sweaty, contains those referred to as the masses. The second group…exercise vastly greater control over their immediate environment and are collectively termed the elite. The distinction…is made on the basis of control of an important resource: air-conditioning.” – Moth Smoke