ARTICLE CHRISTOPHER TENNANT
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY PENGUIN GROUP
TOMORROW (MARCH 5TH) MARKS THE RELEASE OF MOSHIN HAMID'S BRACINGLY INVENTIVE NEW NOVEL, HOW TO GET FILTHY RICH IN RISING ASIA. THE STORY CENTERS ON TWO NAMELESS YOUNG LOVERS WHO SHARE THE DREAM OF MAKING IT BIG AND TRANSCENDING THEIR SLUMDOG ORIGINS, BUT NEVER THE SYSTEM ITSELF. STRUCTURED LOOSELY LIKE A SELF-HELP MANUAL FOR THIRD-WORLD TRAVELERS, IT MIGHT BE THE BEST BOOK YOU READ IN 2013. TRUST!
What made you decide to move back to Pakistan?
Mohsin Hamid: My wife and I had a baby, and we wanted her to be near her grandparents. Plus, when you live away for a long time, Pakistan starts to look pretty scary, and we thought if we didn't move back now, maybe we never would. There's crime and violence here—like in any poor, big city—but it's amazing in many ways too.
You're a Harvard JD. How and when did you decide to start writing fiction?
MH: I wrote my first story in elementary school, a galactic space saga, Star Wars-style, with stick figure illustrations. Then there was a pretty long lull. I didn't get serious about it until I took a creative writing class in college. That's when it hit me that this is what I want to do with my life.
The only book I can recall that's in the second person is Bright Lights Big City. How did you arrive at that decision?
MH: Well, my first novel had second person elements. And my second novel was a dramatic monologue, which is a cousin to second person. So it felt like a natural progression, this third time, to go all the way. I like making the reader-writer relationship real, drawing attention to it, to you reading and me writing, which is to say the reality of how a book functions. Second person opens up formal space for all kinds of play, and also, maybe, a chance for a kind of honesty.
How important is self-help in rising Asia? What role does it play?
MH: It's enormously important. People want to better their lot in life, so they're looking to learn. Self-help books are very popular here. And, of course, as money becomes increasingly powerful and religion becomes increasingly politicized, there's a need for a kind of spiritual self-help, which I think art can be part of.
You talk about the role of TV in promoting class strife. Were the poor better off when they didn't know what the rich had?
MH: I don't think the poor were better off before TV. But I think many people are angrier now. Inequality is more provocative when you can see it every day on a screen in your home.
How important is it to push fiction forward?
MH: Form is vital. They novel is a container, and different times, different contexts, require different containers. Move to the arctic, you'll need to invent a thermos. If you stick to carrying around a glass, well, it might not serve as well as it did when times were warmer.
What's the real secret to getting filthy rich in rising Asia?
MH: The secret is that it's a distraction. The core quest, well, that's something else.