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Moth Smoke: A Novel Paperback – February 3, 2001

4.3 out of 5 stars 121 customer reviews

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Amazon.com 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.

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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: 5.4 x 0.7 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (121 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,306,284 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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.
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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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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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Format: Paperback
There's no doubt about it: "Moth Smoke," by Mohsin Hamid, is an unforgettable reading experience. No matter what background you bring to this book, you'll come away entertained and enlightened...and don't be surprised if you feel a bit jet-lagged, as well. This novel immerses you in a fascinating cultural experience. For the duration of the book, you feel like you are living in modern Lahore, Pakistan.

The story is part love story, part satire, and wholly symbolic about the political state of modern Pakistan. The book is both a morality tale and a political parable.

At the start of the novel the protagonist, Daru, stands accused of murder. The structure of the novel forms a stylized trial. Daru tells us the story of the summer that lead up to his arrest. The summer begins when his bank executive boss fires him for a minor error of social class when dealing with a wealthy customer. Unable to get another job, Daru descends into drugs and crime. Along the way he falls in love with his best friend's wife and carries on a steamy affair with her. Alternating chapter-by-chapter with Daru's story, "witnesses" each take a chapter to talk directly to the reader to condemn or defend the accused, or to provide other relevant information. The book is filled with irony, parable, satire, humor, politics, morality, lust and longing. In the end, the reader is left to make up his mind concerning the guilt or innocence of the accused.

I was dumbfounded to learn that because the book centers on a trial, the author was successfully able to submit it as his J.D. thesis at Harvard Law School. Subsequently, it was picked up by a publisher and won widespread international literary acclaim as his debut novel. I must say I've rarely heard of another book with a stranger beginning!
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