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How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

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There's a line in Hamid's cunning first novel, "Moth Smoke," (first published in 2000 and recently reissued in paperback), that captures his ironic treatment of dishonesty and the rampant corruption in his native Pakistan: " 'I never lie,' I lied."  It's spoken by his main character, a banker in Lahore, to his best friend's wife, with whom he soon falls into an obsessive affair, part of a downward spiral that includes losing his job and sliding into debauchery and drug dealing.

Even at their most roguish, Hamid's characters can be charming – or at least sympathetic, if not actually admirable. His second novel, "The Reluctant Fundamentalist," concerns a young Pakistani graduate of Princeton thriving in corporate New York until September 11th upends his world. By applying a disarmingly light touch to his exploration of serious issues about class, power, violence, decadence, and religious fundamentalism, Hamid has become an appealing voice of contemporary Pakistan.

In "How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia," Hamid's unnamed protagonist does what he has to do to get ahead in an unnamed, rapidly developing city much like Lahore. This involves on-the-job sales training – first, hawking bootlegged DVDs, then groceries past their prime with false new expiration dates, and finally water he boils himself and seals in used bottles collected from restaurants.  As his business slaking a growing city's thirst grows, so does the magnitude of his graft: there are more people to pay off, including contractors, inspectors, tax men,  bankers, and bureaucrats. And, with wealth comes the need for protection – alarms, barbed wire enclosures, and round-the-clock armed guards.

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