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:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 19, 2017
Melvin Goodman
America’s Russian Problem
John W. Whitehead
Nothing is Real: When Reality TV Programming Masquerades as Politics
Mike Whitney
The Trump Speech That No One Heard 
Conn Hallinan
Is Europe Heading for a “Lexit”?
Stephen Cooper
Truth or Twitter? Why Donald Trump Is No John Steinbeck
Binoy Kampmark
Scoundrels of Patriotism: The Freeing of Chelsea Manning
Ramzy Baroud
The Balancing Act is Over: What Elor Azaria Taught Us about Israel
Josh Hoxie
Why Health Care Repeal is a Stealth Tax Break for Millionaires
Kim C. Domenico
It’s High Time for a Politics of Desire
Shamus Cooke
Inauguration Day and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
More and More Lousy
David Swanson
Samantha Power Can See Russia from Her Padded Cell
Yoav Litvin
Time to Diss Obey- The Failure of Identity Politics and Protest
Kevin Carson
Right to Work and the Apartheid State
Malaika H. Kambon
Resisting the Lynching of Haitian Liberty!
January 18, 2017
Gary Leupp
The Extraordinary Array of Those Questioning Trump’s Legitimacy (and Their Various Reasons)
Charles Pierson
Drone Proliferation Ramps Up
Ajamu Baraka
Celebrating Dr. King with the Departure of Barack Obama
David Underhill
Trumpology With a Twist
Chris Floyd
Infinite Jest: Liberals Laughing All the Way to Hell
Stansfield Smith
Obama’s Hidden Role in Worsening Climate Change
Ron Leighton
Trump is Not Hitler: How the Misuse of History Distorts the Present as Well as the Past
Ralph Nader
An Open Letter to President-Elect Donald Trump
Binoy Kampmark
NATO and Obsolescence: Donald Trump and the History of an Alliance
Zarefah Baroud
‘The Power to Create a New World’: Trump and the Environmental Challenge Ahead
Julian Vigo
Obama Must Pardon the Black Panthers in Prison or in Exile
Alfredo Lopez
The Whattsapp Scandal
Clancy Sigal
Russian Hacking and the Smell Test
Terry Simons
The Truth About Ethics and Condoms
January 17, 2017
John Pilger
The Issue is Not Trump, It is Us
John K. White
Is Equality Overrated, Too?
Michael J. Sainato
The DNC Hands the Democratic Party Over to David Brock and Billionaire Donors
John Davis
Landscapes of Shame: America’s National Parks
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Politicians and Rhetorical Tricks
Chris Busby
The Scientific Hero of Chernobyl: Alexey V. Yablokov, the Man Who Dared to Speak the Truth
David Macaray
Four Reasons Trump Will Quit
Chet Richards
The Vicissitudes of the Rural South
Clancy Sigal
“You Don’t Care About Jobs”: Why the Democrats Lost
Robert Dodge
Martin Luther King and U.S. Politics: Time for a U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Jack Sadat Lee
I Dream of Justice for All the Animal Kingdom
James McEnteer
Mourning Again in America
January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Did the Elites Have Martin Luther King Jr. Killed?
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Clobbers Ocean Life
Patrick Cockburn
The Terrifying Parallels Between Trump and Erdogan
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail