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Moth Smoke by Mohsin Hamid
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Nov 27, 2007

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Recommended for: anyone interested in south asian literature and contemporary culture
Read in June, 2007

In Moth Smoke, Mohsin Hamid crafts a complex story and leaves you to judge the characters, their insecurities, their arrogance, and their crimes. He has written a candid and uncomfortably honest account of contemporary Pakistan.
Dara has lost his job, and all desire to pull out from the economic slump that leaves him in. He is resigned to let his insecurities take him over. Reuniting with his childhood pal Ozi and Ozi's beautiful wife Mumtaz, bring out all the hitherto buried uncertainties. Dara's clandestine attraction for Mumtaz and his envy for Ozi cloaked under morally uptight condescension thrust him into the belly of Pakistan's corrupt judicial system.

Whether it is the drug addiction or his insistence on becoming martyr to his love, Dara's decline is not unlike the much scrutinized moth fatally spiraling towards the candle flame. From being a banker to a drug peddler to a petty criminal, Dara smokes through to the inevitable end.

Mohsin Hamid has inferred interesting parallels between the characters and the nuclear rivalry of blood brothers India-Pakistan. And the fatalistic nature of the moth to bring forth certain unstated thoughts of Dara.

It is a cleverly laid out book which unravels as a play with each character recounting their side of the story. The writing style for the narratives of each character is very similar and this is where I feel Mohsin Hamid left me desiring for something better. Each character's narrative sounds similar in language, their diversity and disparity is not manifested in their language.

Mohsin Hamid's achievement in Moth Smoke is that he has steered completely clear of the immigrant literature formula. A lot of South Asian author's first books fall for the obvious and tend to talk about their immigrant lives, childhood memories triggered by smells of pickles or jasmine oil, houses full of aunts and uncles. There is none of the sepia-toned flashbacks which make even the hottest day appear mellow, beautiful in our memories. Rather he says it like it scorchingly is.

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