What Is Asia?


Upon recommendation from Tyler Cowen, I read How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Age last year and, frankly, found it weird. It’s written in second person and is a bit of odd self-help novel. I didn’t really think much of it and didn’t really think much about it afterwards.

Then last week, I was listening to Writer’s and Company and heard the interview with Mohsin Hamid. Maybe halfway through the program, I realized he was the author who wrote How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Age. And then I realized my entire perception of the novel was wrong.

Hamid is Pakistani and the novel was based upon his experiences of living in Lahore. In my mind, however, the novel was set in China. Because it’s called how to get filthy rich in rising Asia. And clearly that means China.

I forget, and I think that most Americans do, that India and Pakistan are part of Asia. Hearing Hamid reread parts of the book on the program made me realize how obvious from description and context clues that the book wasn’t set in China but in South Asia. Surroundings, character descriptions, all of it. The concept of what “Asia” is is so strong that it overrode all the other inputs in my brain.

I don’t think, even if I’d understood where the book was set, that I’d enjoy it anymore. Nothing is going to change how annoying I find the second person point of view. But I do wonder how I would have perceived the book differently if it hadn’t been for my own biases.

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