ADVICE FOR UP-AND-COMERS
In his ingenious third novel, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, Mohsin Hamid spoofs the self-help business guides that are all the rage among Asia’s would-be entrepreneurs. Throughout the narrative, he writes from the second-person point of view, employing “you” to refer to his anonymous protagonist, a poor young man from a provincial part of Asia, who, armed with a little education and a lot of ambition, seeks opportunities in the big city. He tries his hand at various enterprises and eventually becomes rich through a (somewhat sketchy) bottled-water business. His big dream, though, involves a woman whose fortunes have run a similar course. Composed of 12 chapters, each of which bears a scrap of advice as a title—Work for Yourself; Have an Exit Strategy—this masterfully crafted story captures the manners and mores of contemporary Asia, but also serves as a shrewd commentary on the desires that drive us all. This is a remarkably inventive novel from a writer who isn’t afraid to take risks.
In her vividly realized memoir, With or Without You, Domenica Ruta looks back on the turbulent childhood she experienced with her drug-addicted mother, Kathi. Raised in Danvers, Massachusetts, she grows up in a household where poverty and mayhem are the order of the day, overseen by a mom who’s often dysfunctional. Money is always short. The time Ruta spends with her father in his comfortable, suburban neighborhood only heightens the sense of deprivation she feels at home. Kathi, who comes from an Italian-American family, has a feisty spirit and an unpredictable disposition. With her moodiness, her endless need for drugs and her taste for drama, she’s an unforgettable character, and Ruta does a wonderful job of bringing out the paradoxes in her mother’s personality. Ruta’s own struggle with addiction is part of the story, and she writes about it with unflinching honesty. She depicts her unorthodox upbringing with dark humor and lucid prose, making her relationship with Kathi come alive on the page.
TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s hypnotic third novel, Americanah, tells the story of Ifemelu, a confident, beautiful Nigerian who immigrates to America. In her new home, Ifemelu struggles to adapt and to survive financially. But she makes it through college, starts an acclaimed blog about race, and wins a fellowship to Princeton. All the while she’s haunted by memories of her former boyfriend, Obinze. Soft-spoken and introverted, Obinze immigrates to London where he ekes out an uncertain existence before being deported. Back home, he becomes wealthy as a property developer. When Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, her old feelings for him are revived, and the pair find themselves in the grip of passion. Both are forced to make difficult decisions about the future. Adichie’s dramatic, sweeping narrative functions as an emotionally riveting love story, as a profound meditation on race and as a revealing exploration of the immigrant experience. It succeeds—beautifully—on every level.