Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Mohsin Hamid

Around this time every year the people in the dean's office ask business-school faculty for their summer reading recommendations, which are posted on our web site. Mine tend to be novels, or occasionally nature books relating to simple organisms like slime molds or lichens. This year it was only novelists. Having already blogged two of my three recommendations (here and here), I limit myself to the third here, with some augmentation (the excerpt in particular). But all you really need to know is: Read these!

The Reluctant Fundamentalist
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia
Mohsin Hamid

These are the two most recent novels by the brilliant young Pakistani writer Mohsin Hamid. They are both coming-of-age stories, the protagonists South Asian men negotiating the rapid, radical, and often contradictory changes occurring in their homeland, or coming to terms with life as a dark-skinned émigré, post-9/11. As a writer, Hamid is at once poetic, efficient, and brutally honest. He never allows you, the reader, to avert your eyes from what is ugly or unpleasant, but he often adds some subversive irony or humor to help you nervously laugh it off... or not. For example, the unnamed second-person narrator of How to Get Filthy Rich, in the context of how he came to be the educated sibling, describes the fate of his older sister:
She was told she could go back to school once your brother, the middle of you three surviving siblings, was old enough to work. She demonstrated more enthusiasm for education in her few months in a classroom than your brother did in his several years. He has just found employment as a painter's assistant, and has been taken out of school as a result, but your sister will not be sent there in his stead. Her time for that has passed. Marriage is her future. She has been marked for entry.
Ouch, that stings. But in spite of it all, Hamid is a romantic, and a humanist. These are both love stories, after all. And a side note to business readers: Hamid is the rare novelist who writes cleverly about the realities of business and economics. He’ll make use of Keynes for a literary allusion. And those fundamentals? They just might be financial rather than religious.

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