"This book is a self-help book" we are told at the beginning of How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, and the reader is momentarily gulled into believing that Mohsin Hamid's latest is a work of non-fiction.
Shortly after, however, a character emerges, a newborn baby, and Hamid's book morphs into a novel, or rather a novel masquerading as a how-to book.
It's a neat trick, and one he executes triumphantly over the course of more than 200 pages, and, indeed, the course of a life: namely, that malnourished, impoverished baby growing up into a healthy, wealthy adult.
Hamid mesmerises by expertly describing this rags-to-riches arc, but he also ensures we are a captive audience by addressing the reader directly throughout.
We, the reader, are his character. "You" are the baby, "huddled, shivering, on the packed earth under your mother's cot", just as later it is "you" who becomes the successful water industrialist who has "thrived to the sound of the city's great whooshing thirst". Hamid commands our attention and we willingly give it.
Our hand-to-mouth existence in a rural village marks our inauspicious beginning. The village isn't named and neither are we, for this is intended as a universal guide, a catch-all scheme; each of us a generic, delete-as-appropriate everyman anywhere in rising Asia.
"This book is going to offer you a choice" we learn, and soon Hamid supplies a way out in the dual form, not to mention double shock, of education and the city.
We defy the odds, survive the crushing privation and escape to the sprawling metropolis (which may or may not be Hamid's native Lahore).
We watch in wonder as "buildings go from mud to brick to concrete, then shoot up to an unimaginable four storeys, even five."
Hamid's local colour is shaded with great swathes of fact (more people live here than in half the countries in the world) and tiny pointillist detail (our teacher is "hollow-cheeked, betel-nut spitting, possibly tubercular"). The "young jaundiced village boy" is on his way to becoming a city slicker.
Moving to the metropolis is "the first step" and we have taken it. The book praises and instructs us. Getting an education is practically an order, but we realise that acquiring one places us among the lucky few. Our sister, despite having shown enthusiasm in the classroom, is plucked from school and betrothed to an older man. Later chapters teach further lessons: "Befriend a Bureaucrat" reminds us that while chance plays a key role in getting ahead in the developing world, so too does nepotism and venality (greased palms and cooked books being a requisite for passing exams, securing contracts and ensuring the taxman turns a blind eye); and "Be Prepared to Use Violence" paints a grim picture of the threats, casual brutality and armed security necessary to both stay afloat and alive amid cut-throat competition.