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Moth Smoke: A Novel Paperback – February 3, 2001

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (February 3, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312273231
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312273231
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (104 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #753,515 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Since the late 1970s, India in all her infinite variety has been brought to life as a posse of Indian authors writing in English have exploded onto the scene: Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Anita Desai, Rohinton Mistry, Vikram Seth, Bharati Mukherjee--the list is legion. But what of Pakistan--that Siamese twin, painfully separated in the partition of 1947? Though neither as numerous nor as well known as their Indian counterparts, Pakistani writers are beginning to make an impression on Western readers. Novelists from Rushdie to the Pakistani Bapsi Sidwha have written about the partition and the bloody civil war that followed; even stories set in modern-day Bombay or Lahore cannot escape the aftershocks of the division. On the surface, Mohsin Hamid's first novel, Moth Smoke, seems more domestic than political drama: narrated from several different perspectives, it tells the story of Daru Shezad's ill-fated affair with his best friend's wife, Mumtaz. But in a country like Pakistan, the personal and the political are difficult to separate, and as the story moves along, the divisions between gender, class, and opportunity provide a not-so-subtle commentary on the fissures that run through contemporary Pakistani society. The novel begins, tellingly, with a historical fragment about the internecine wars of succession that followed the rule of Emperor Shah Jahan (builder of the Taj Mahal):
Imprisoned in his fort at Agra, staring at the Taj he had built, an aged Shah Jahan received as a gift from his youngest son the head of his eldest. Perhaps he doubted, then, the memory that his boys had once played together, far from his supervision and years ago, in Lahore.
Jump ahead several hundred years to Lahore in the summer of 1998. Childhood playmates Daru and Ozi have just reunited again after Ozi's three-year stay in America. Glad as he is to see his old friend, Daru can't keep his eyes off of Ozi's wife, Mumtaz. "You know you're in trouble when you can't meet a woman's eye," he says. But woman trouble isn't his only problem; he's also addicted to hash, which leads to his dismissal from an upscale job as a banker. Soon Daru spirals out of control into a degraded existence on the fringes of society. Then a young boy is killed in a hit-and-run accident, and he is accused and jailed. Shah Jehan would probably recognize this age-old story of love and revenge playing out once more--this time against the backdrop of the Indian-Pakistani arms race. Hamid artfully weaves the subcontinent's tragic history into his characters' no-less-tragic present, rendering Moth Smoke a novel that resonates on many levels. --Sheila Bright --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Hamid subjects contemporary Pakistan to fierce scrutiny in his first novel, tracing the downward spiral of Darashikoh "Daru" Shezad, a young man whose uneasy status on the fringes of the Lahore elite is imperiled when he is fired from his job at a bank. Daru owes both the job and his education to his best friend Ozi's father, Khurram, a corrupt former official of one of the Pakistan regimes who has looked out for Daru ever since Daru's father, an old army buddy of Khurram's, died in the early '70s. As the story begins, Ozi has just returned from America, where he earned a college degree, with his wife, Mumtaz, and child. From the moment they meet, Daru and Mumtaz are drawn to each other. Mumtaz is fascinated by Daru's air of suppressed violence, and Daru is intrigued by Mumtaz's secret career as an investigative journalist; the two share a taste for recreational drugs, sex and sports. But their affair really begins after Daru witnesses Ozi, driving recklessly, mow down a teenage boy and flee the scene. Daru decides then that Ozi is morally bankrupt. But as Daru becomes more dependent on drugs, the arrogance he himself has absorbed from his upper-class upbringing stands out in stark contrast to his circumstances. Daru's noirish, first-person account of his moral descent, culminating with murder, interweaves with chapters written in the distinctive voices of the other characters. One in particular comes vividly to life: Murad Badshah, a sort of Pakastani Falstaff, officially the head of a rickshaw company, but kept afloat by drug dealing and robbery. Hamid's tale, played out against the background of Pakistan's recent testing of a nuclear device, creates a powerful image of an insecure society toying with its own dissolution. (Jan.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Mohsin Hamid is the author of the novels Moth Smoke, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia. His award-winning fiction has been featured on bestseller lists, adapted for the cinema, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and translated into over 30 languages. His essays and short stories have appeared in the New York Times, the Guardian, the New Yorker, Granta, and many other publications. Born in 1971 in Lahore, he has spent about half his life there and much of the rest in London, New York, and California.

Customer Reviews

Well written, good story, the book moves along nicely.
The author takes the reader into a dark and somewhat surreal atmosphere with great skill and talent.
Jack Scanlon
I was able to feel the emotion of each character throughout the entire story.
Adrienne Hughes

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

56 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Orrin C. Judd VINE VOICE on October 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
As those of us in the West grope towards some understanding of the turbulence in the Islamic world, it
is only natural that, along with the histories and the political analyses, we turn to literature. Mohsin
Hamid's Moth Smoke, set in Lahore, Pakistan in the summer of 1998, as India and Pakistan rattled
their nuclear sabers, offers a very readable entree to some of the issues surrounding the awkward
process of modernizing one Moslem nation. In particular, it captures the frustration and anger of the
less fortunate in a country whose ruling class is thoroughly corrupt and where the economic divide is
so vast that the wealthy can insulate themselves from the rules that bind the rest of society, and can
nearly avoid physical contact with the lower classes. But it also conveys some sense of the visceral
pride felt at every level of society when the government demonstrated that--just as the Christians, Jews,
Orthodox, Buddhists, and Hindus--Moslems have the bomb too. This tension, of income inequalities
dividing the nation, while ethno-religious pride unites it, is currently a defining characteristic of the
Set against this exotic backdrop of nuclear confrontation and a miasma of corruption, cronyism, and
kickbacks, Hamid unfolds an oddly familiar tale that's equal parts hard-boiled fiction and
yuppie-descent-into-drugs-and-alcohol : the debts to Jay McInerney and James M. Cain are equally
heavy. Darashikoh "Daru" Shezad is a young banker who grew up on the fringes of high society, but
whose lack of connections has ultimately brought him up against a glass ceiling.
Read more ›
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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful By "blinkagain" on March 18, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I'd never heard of this book or this writer when I picked up Moth Smoke. Being from Pakistan myself, I was somewhat apprehensive...the gushing praise on the back jacket seemed a little TOO gushing, the context of this book seemed too easily marketable in a decade which has seen a feeding frenzy upon asian and asian american writers by critics and publishing houses alike. Imagine my surprise. I couldn't have had less to worry about. This is a truly compelling novel. In a time when words like "post-colonial" are tossed around like garbage, let me say that this work stands up and holds its own. As a document testifying to the various minutiae of Pakistani society and as a study in some very economical prose, with a crew of characters as remarkable as any you've ever read about, and as a novel that manages to engage the reader with disturbing yet very real questions, Moth Smoke is a success. Don't bother to compare this work in any way to other novels based around the same geographical region of the world -- your comparisons are pointless. This work offers a stimulating mix of fast, heady, prose that manages to linger -- somewhat like smoke itself. Mohsin Hamid has Arrived and I for one salute him.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By James W. Whitehouse on March 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Utilizing a style that is both sensual and textured, the author engulfs the reader in his world so completely that it is hard to shake the feeling that one has spent the last year in Lehore. The characters are engaging and even enchanting, as they continue to live in one's mind even after the story is finished. The sociological commentary and poignant descriptions of a part of the world just learning to come to terms with the anxiety of nuclear responsibility are both engrossing and (I think) important. And yet they can not, for this reader, outweigh the elegance of the literary style, the voluptuous descriptions and the beauty and depth of the character development.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Darashikoh Shezad on April 29, 2000
Format: Hardcover
While nowhere near the likes of Rushdie, Sidhwa or Naipaul, Mohsin Hamid can weave a good yarn. Moth Smoke will not disappoint readers looking for great bed-time reading. They will find in it a highly stylized,tale-noir, which flirts with reality a little too often. While Mohsin captures the Lahori mood reasonably well and has us all longing for a Mumtaz of our own, there are no original insights in the book, no penetrating observations of human relationships, no vivid descriptions of Lahori life and little understanding of the current social dynamics in the Pakistani society. Instead it contains several myths propagated by westernized intellectuals about our society whcih float in and out of conversations. The interclass dynamics are rather poorly represented. Similarly, attempts at analyzing popular psyche are somewhat superficial. Why were ordinary Pakistanis ecstatic when Pakistan conducted atomic explosions? Mohsin tells us it was for pride. He also tells us, from the mouth of Murad Badshah, that they would have to pay a heavy price for this act. The analysis stops there leaving us with the strong implication that ordinary pakistanis were blinded by pride and could not foresee the economic hardship that was to follow. but the problem is most pakistanis still do not regret the explosions, after having borne all the post-bomb hardship. Why? Pride again? the book does not go deep enough. When fiction pretends to be non-fiction the standards for judging it move a little bit higher. While it is not required to be completely accurate, it should not distort things either. Moth smoke is likely to play right into the hands of people like Ozi and Mumtaz. In doing that, Mohsin might be doing people like Daru a bit of a disservice.
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