The Only Self-Help Book You Will Ever Need


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.

November 24, 2015
Dave Lindorff
An Invisible US Hand Leading to War? Turkey’s Downing of a Russian Jet was an Act of Madness
Mike Whitney
Turkey Downs Russian Fighter to Draw NATO and US Deeper into Syrian Quagmire
Walter Clemens
Who Created This Monster?
Patrick Graham
Bombing ISIS Will Not Work
Lida Maxwell
Who Gets to Demand Safety?
Eric Draitser
Refugees as Weapons in a Propaganda War
David Rosen
Trump’s Enemies List: a Trial Balloon for More Repression?
Chris Gilbert
“Why Socialism?” Revisited: Reflections Inspired by Einstein’s Article
Eric Mann
Playing Politics While the Planet Sizzles
Charles Davis
NSA Spies on Venezuela’s Oil Company
Michael Barker
Democracy vs. Political Policing
Barry Lando
Shocked by Trump? Churchill Wanted to “Collar Them All”
Cal Winslow
When Workers Fight: the National Union of Healthcare Workers Wins Battle with Kaiser
Norman Pollack
Where Does It End?: Left Political Correctness
David Macaray
Companies Continue to Profit by Playing Dumb
Binoy Kampmark
Animals in Conflict: Diesel, Dobrynya and Sentimental Security
Dave Welsh
Defiant Haiti: “We Won’t Let You Steal These Elections!”
November 23, 2015
Vijay Prashad
The Doctrine of 9/11 Anti-Immigration
John Wight
After Paris: Hypocrisy and Mendacity Writ Large
Joseph G. Ramsey
No Excuses, No Exceptions: the Moral Imperative to Offer Refuge
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS Thrives on the Disunity of Its Enemies
Andrew Moss
The Message of Montgomery: 60 Years Later
Jim Green
James Hansen’s Nuclear Fantasies
Robert Koehler
The Absence of History in the Aftermath of Paris
Dave Lindorff
The US Media and Propaganda
Dave Randle
France and Martial Law
Gilbert Mercier
If We Are at War, Let’s Bring Back the Draft!
Alexey Malashenko
Putin’s Syrian Gambit
Binoy Kampmark
Closing the Door: US Politics and the Refugee Debate
Julian Vigo
A Brief Genealogy of Disappearance and Murder
John R. Hall
Stuck in the Middle With You
Barbara Nimri Aziz
McDonalds at 96th Street
David Rovics
At the Center of Rebellion: the Life and Music of Armand
Weekend Edition
November 20-22, 2015
Jason Hirthler
Paris and the Soldiers of the Caliphate: More War, More Blowback
Sam Husseini
The Left and Right Must Stop the Establishment’s Perpetual War Machine
Mike Whitney
Hillary’s War Whoop
Pepe Escobar
In the Fight Against ISIS, Russia Ain’t Taking No Prisoners
Ajamu Baraka
The Paris Attacks and the White Lives Matter Movement
Andrew Levine
The Clintons are Coming, the Clintons are Coming!
Linda Pentz Gunter
Let’s Call Them What They Are: Climate Liars
Paul Street
Verging on Plutocracy? Getting Real About the Unelected Dictatorship
Nur Arafeh
Strangling the Palestinian Economy
Patrick Howlett-Martin
The Paris Attacks: a Chronicle Foretold
Vijay Prashad
Rebuilding Syria With BRICS and Mortar
Brian Cloughley
Why US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is the Biggest Threat to World Peace