The Gentleman Recommends: Mohsin Hamid

Imagine, if you will, you are a gentleman of means. Sure, your silks are a bit tattered, your fainting coach is worn and your butler may indeed be a figment of your imagination, but your snack cabinet is robust, and your butler’s compliments are as flowery and flattering as they are unceasing. Still, you seek greater means. “Why should I not have a zeppelin and an army of carrier pigeons?” you ask yourself.

So you explore the typical avenues for the gathering of wealth. There’s the lottery. You could shoot dice in an alley. Perhaps show up at a billionaire’s home claiming to be a long-lost cousin. But you are not good at the lottery, lack the athleticism for dice play, and find that billionaires hate their cousins. You turn to the last refuge of aspiring wealth-hoarders: the fiction section of your local library. You stalk the shelves, looking for the secrets to getting filthy rich, and do so with a willingness to acquire that wealth anywhere in the world. You look at the titles of several books, frustrated that their authors are clearly uninterested in helping you achieve your goal of subverting the United States Postal Service via a fleet of birds transmitting stamp-less messages. Then, after a few minutes of browsing — time you are beginning to think would have been better spent researching which relatives billionaires care about — eureeka! “Eureeka!” you shriek, to the dismay of everyone else in the library, after reading the first five words of the title you clutch. “How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.” The last two words give you pause. You’d prefer to get rich in the United States. Your joy is muted. Your subsequent hurrahs are only heard by those near you.

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia book coverYou find that the novel, written in the second person, is loaded with instructions. But they are very specific, and if one was to properly follow them, they would have to begin following the instructions from birth and not cease until they are very near death. You give it your best try. You eat a radish in gross broth. You try to start a business selling bottled water. Eventually you realize that Mohsin Hamid’s novel, as awesomely clever as it is, and hilarious, in a dry, heartbreaking sort of way, is only providing instructions for how one specific man could become rich. This realization is deflating. You collapse onto your fainting couch, causing a new tear in a ragged seam, and drink a delicious and refreshing and contaminant-free-guaranteed bottled water, which, incidentally, is available for purchase from a certain gentleman for a price that may at first seem exorbitant, but which is fair, considering the unblemished nature of the water, and absolutely necessary, considering the costs of acquiring and sustaining hundreds of specialty birds.


You move on. Years later, you read another novel by Mohsin Hamid.


IExit West book covermagine, if you will, you live in a place where you and those you love are constantly at risk of being brutally murdered. A magic door is discovered. Once it was an ordinary door, but now when you go through that door, you end up in an entirely new place, where people are not trying to kill you. Ordinary doors are turning into magic doors all over the world. Many people are going from bad places to less bad places. People that were already in those less bad places are mad that other people want to be there too. Now many of these people want to kill or imprison the people that are showing up in a country they weren’t lucky enough to be born in. Two people are in love when they flee a country with a lot of murdering going on to a country with significantly less murdering.


Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid is a beautiful, magical novel. It is sweeter and bitterer than most things that are called bittersweet. It is not written in the second-person. You read the book. You love it. You also are very thirsty and willing to pay a seemingly exorbitant but absolutely justified price in order to slake your thirst.