FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Only Self-Help Book You Will Ever Need

by CHARLES R. LARSON

Fans of Mohsin Hamid’s earlier two novels, once again,  are going to be pleasantly rewarded.  His third novel, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, is an utter delight—in every way the equal of his first two.  I say this up front because successful novelists often trip up early in their careers, churning out something unworthy of their talents.  Often, the pressures come from publishers who want to cash in on a writer’s success before the public forgets about the writer.

Hamid’sThe Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007) is a chilling gavotte, involving an American (probably a CIA operative) and a Pakistani young man who meet on the streets of Lahore and spend an anxious few hours together in prelude (we assume) to a subsequent terrorist act.   A movie version of this widely-praised novel will be released later this year.  Hamid’s first novel, Moth Smoke (2000), records the spiraling decline of a young Pakistani, also in Lahore, who supposedly represents the newly educated elite with unlimited financial opportunities—until things suddenly go awry.  Taken together, the novels heralded a major new voice on the Indian sub-continent—worldly, hip, urbane—which is why Hamid’s third novel is such a pleasure to encounter, without any decline of his talents.

The “hook” for How to Get Rich in Rising Asia is the self-help book, the only gimmick in Hamid’s novel, though the genre is parodied more than it is emulated.  Hence, the point-of-view is the second person.  The novel begins, “Look, unless you’re writing one, a self-help book is an oxymoron.  You read a self-help book so someone who isn’t yourself can help you, that someone being the author.”  Presumably with the Pakistani reader in mind, the opening chapter titles drive the early narrative: “Move to the City,” “Get an Education,” “Don’t Fall in Love.”  That is, forget the sticks, get enough education so you are street savvy and don’t have to return to the burbs, avoid relationships that will hamper your rise. Above all, work diligently, which is Pakistan means you may need—assuming you have no personal contacts—to begin with a questionable job and deal with shady people.

“Avoid Idealists,” the title of the next chapter, warns you about getting involved with radical groups that are working for a cause (say overthrowing the government).  Better to “Learn from a Master,” in an “apprenticeship” of sorts, though that will also no doubt filthyinvolve questionable activities, since anyone filthy rich has had to do something illegal.  In the narrator’s example, “Your costs are low because your master sources recently expired goods at scrap prices, erases the expiry date from the packaging, and reprints a later date instead.”  The profits can be enormous.  With the wisdom of a master behind you, strike out on your own.

This is where things begin to get a little complicated solely because Pakistan can be a pretty dicey place. Hamid never says that directly—after all, he lives in Lahore and loves the place—but what is mentioned in the background frequently is enough to unsettle many readers.  There’s violence all around you; you may need to engage in a little violence yourself to get what you want.  The background references petrol bombs, muggings, street crime, terrorism, excessive surveillance by the government, urban scrawl, houses enmeshed in razor wire, drones overhead, a military that pretty much grabs what it wants—business and government officials who are corrupt as hell.

Problem is, to reach the top, you will be lonely, since most relationships will need to be left to what’s pragmatic.  So if you see a “pretty girl,” chances are that she is hustling as much as you are and can’t let herself get involved with you any more than you can with her. Your wife—if you should choose to have one—will probably leave you once she understands that you aren’t much interested in anything but your work. You are, in fact, all alone, always running as fast as you can to get what you want.

And, yet, for all the satire, the comic incidents here—mixed with violent ones—How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is one of the most tender narratives you will ever read.  There’s a shift in the last couple of chapters when you will be in your 70’s, no longer the youth you were when you started your rise, when matters get so complicated that if you don’t “Focus on the Fundamentals” (the title of the penultimate chapter and a pun on his earlier work), you’d better forget it all. What kicks into Hamid’s amazing novel is wisdom and tenderness, with the perfection that you have attained that will, hopefully, get you through the final exit.  And although you can’t expect that everyone will be so fortunate, you will certainly adore this book just as I did.

Mohsin Hamid: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

Riverhead, 240 pp., $26.95

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C.  Email: clarson@american.edu.      

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
Stratos Ramoglou
Why the Greek Economic Crisis Won’t be Ending Anytime Soon
David Price
The 2016 Tour of California: Notes on a Big Pharma Bike Race
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Rev. William Alberts
The United Methodist Church Up to Its Old Trick: Kicking the Can of Real Inclusion Down the Road
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Lorenzo Raymond
Why Nonviolent Civil Resistance Doesn’t Work (Unless You Have Lots of Bombs)
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Ed Meek
The Republic of Fear
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
David Yearsley
Elgar’s Hegemony: the Pomp of Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail