Friday, June 21, 2013

How to Write a Review/Endorsement

ISBN-10: 1594487294 ISBN-13: 9781594487293 Published: Riverhead Hardcover, 03/05/2013 Pages: 240 Language: English
When you are writing a review/endorsement of an extremely clever novel that uses the format of a business "self-help" book to tell a narrative entirely in the second-person, it is important to write a thoughtful, considerate blog post without needless rhetorical gambits or meta-tomfoolery. In writing a review/endorsement, sincerity is key, but you are a young person with a college degree who never says anything in four words that could be said in four paragraphs. So, you proceed with your endorsement of Mohsin Hamid's newest novel: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, which you know to be Hamid's third novel, and a follow-up to his attention-grabbing work The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which has recently been made into a film that you have not seen, but automatically assume is worse than the book that inspired it. 

You might wish to point out that the novel has many similarities with your beloved Great Gatsby: it is a rags-to-riches story featuring an ill-fated love, the prose is florid but wry, it is slight in length but chock-full of ambition, and it seems somehow zeitgest-capturing without sacrificing universal themes. For as much as Hamid's book is about portraying an economic/social moment in time without skimping on post-colonial satire or uncomfortable truths, it is also about redemptive love and the search for what makes life worth living. If "How to..." can at times read as angry or even broadly misanthropic, it is that, but Hamid frequently condemns the mob while showing great compassion for the individual. Even after finishing the novel, you are not sure where it was meant to have taken place-- no cities or people are named and the situations depicted are common in all of "Rising Asia." Specificity is the soul of narrative, though, and Hamid is careful to give attention and consideration to even minor, initially unsympathetic characters. You remember vividly a scene in which a gunman who has earlier brutally threatened our protagonist is preparing for another assignment: 

"Later that week the boyish gunman is once more given instructions to encounter you. He washes and dresses as usual, listening to movie songs on a promotional soda-can-shaped radio and shaving above his upper lip in the aspiration of one day provoking a mustache. His mother and sister bid him good-bye. He is low on funds and so he purchases only a small quantity of petrol for his motorcycle and a single loose cigarette. He chooses an intersection on your route with a giant billboard advertising antibacterial soap, and waits, smoking, a new habit good for making him forget that he is hungry."

In your opinion, that single paragraph is beautiful in its simplicity, and, moreover, is essential to making Hamid's world three-dimensional. Like one of your idols, Kurt Vonnegut, you feel that Hamid's satire, his irony, his anger, his misanthropy, is all earned by an underlying reservoir of deep humanity. You consider that you haven't really accomplished your stated aim of describing how to write a book review, and that your humorous conceit probably was unnecessary and poorly executed. You know, at least, that anything can be salvaged by a great Vonnegut quote, and so you write: "There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind." You don't know Mr. Hamid, and probably never will, but you feel he would agree with the sentiment.


  1. *clap clap clap* Well said, good sir. Well said.