Moth smoke a novel by mohsin hamid a political parable about modern pakistanDocument Transcript
Moth Smoke: A Novel by Mohsin Hamid A Political Parable About Modern PakistanSince the late 1970s, India in all her infinite variety has been brought tolife as a posse of Indian authors writing in English have exploded onto thescene: 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? Thoughneither as numerous nor as well known as their Indian counterparts,Pakistani writers are beginning to make an impression on Westernreaders. Novelists from Rushdie to the Pakistani Bapsi Sidwha havewritten about the partition and the bloody civil war that followed; evenstories set in modern-day Bombay or Lahore cannot escape theaftershocks of the division. On the surface, Mohsin Hamids first novel,Moth Smoke, seems more domestic than political drama: narrated fromseveral different perspectives, it tells the story of Daru Shezads ill-fatedaffair with his best friends wife, Mumtaz. But in a country like Pakistan, thepersonal and the political are difficult to separate, and as the story movesalong, the divisions between gender, class, and opportunity provide a not-so-subtle commentary on the fissures that run through contemporaryPakistani society. The novel begins, tellingly, with a historical fragmentabout the internecine wars of succession that followed the rule of EmperorShah 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 fromhis youngest son the head of his eldest. Perhaps he doubted, then, thememory that his boys had once played together, far from his supervisionand years ago, in Lahore. Jump ahead several hundred years to Lahorein the summer of 1998. Childhood playmates Daru and Ozi have justreunited again after Ozis three-year stay in America. Glad as he is to seehis old friend, Daru cant keep his eyes off of Ozis wife, Mumtaz. You knowyoure in trouble when you cant meet a womans eye, he says. But womantrouble isnt his only problem; hes also addicted to hash, which leads to hisdismissal from an upscale job as a banker. Soon Daru spirals out ofcontrol into a degraded existence on the fringes of society. Then a youngboy is killed in a hit-and-run accident, and he is accused and jailed. ShahJehan would probably recognize this age-old story of love and revengeplaying out once more--this time against the backdrop of the Indian-Pakistani arms race. Hamid artfully weaves the subcontinents tragichistory into his characters no-less-tragic present, rendering Moth Smoke anovel that resonates on many levels. --Sheila Bright
Features:* ISBN13: 9780312273231* Condition: NEW* Notes: Brand New from Publisher. No Remainder Mark.* Click here to view our Condition Guide and Shipping PricesTheres no doubt about it: Moth Smoke, by Mohsin Hamid, is anunforgettable reading experience. No matter what background you bring tothis book, youll come away entertained and enlightened...and dont besurprised if you feel a bit jet-lagged, as well. This novel immerses you in afascinating cultural experience. For the duration of the book, you feel likeyou are living in modern Lahore, Pakistan.The story is part love story, part satire, and wholly symbolic about thepolitical state of modern Pakistan. The book is both a morality tale and apolitical 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 ofthe summer that lead up to his arrest. The summer begins when his bankexecutive boss fires him for a minor error of social class when dealing witha wealthy customer. Unable to get another job, Daru descends into drugsand crime. Along the way he falls in love with his best friends wife andcarries on a steamy affair with her. Alternating chapter-by-chapter withDarus story, witnesses each take a chapter to talk directly to the reader tocondemn or defend the accused, or to provide other relevant informati on.The book is filled with irony, parable, satire, humor, politics, morality, lustand longing. In the end, the reader is left to make up his mind concerningthe guilt or innocence of the accused.I was dumbfounded to learn that because the book centers on a trial, theauthor was successfully able to submit it as his J.D. thesis at Harvard LawSchool. Subsequently, it was picked up by a publisher and wonwidespread international literary acclaim as his debut novel. I must say Iverarely heard of another book with a stranger beginning!What is most fascinating about this book for the Western reader, is itsintricate and detailed portrayal of four levels of Pakistani culture: the ultrarich elite, the white-collar middle class, the blue-collar middle class, andthe poor. The novel provides a culturally eye-opening literary adventurethat makes you feel like your taking a journey through the seedy side ofLahore. The novel focuses on the decadent lifestyle of the ultra-rich--inparticular, the Generation X children of the corrupt civil servants,politicians, government bureaucrats, and industrialists that form Pakistanselite upper half-a-percentile.The author knows this territory well. His father is a member of PakistansAmerican-educated upper class. The author spent his early childhoodliving near Stanford University where his father was attending graduate
school. Thus he learned to read and write English before he ever learnedUrdu. After his father graduated, the family returned to Pakistan whereHamid spent his later childhood and adolescence. He returned toAmerican for an undergraduate degree at Princeton and a law degree fromHarvard. He worked for a few years as a management consultant in NewYork, and later as a freelance journalist. He now lives in London where hehas dual Pakistani and U.K. citizenship.Moth Smoke takes place in Lahore over the course of the long hot summerof 1998. This time period plays a key role in the thematic undercurrent ofthe novel. In May of 1998 India successfully tested five nuclear bombs,and in the summer of 1998, Pakistan responded with its first successfulnuclear bomb tests. Naturally, the people of Pakistan were triumphant.Their jubilation forms the background for parts of this novel, and highlightsits political themes.The book begins and ends with a parable drawn directly from the glorydays of South Asian prehistory, namely: the 17th-century Mogul Empire ofShah Jahan, the legendary Emperor who ruled over a vast Islamic empireincluding all of what is now India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, as wellconsiderable territory from other bordering states. Shah Jahan is reveredin Pakistan. He was born and raised in Lahore, but established manypalaces, gardens, and mosques in other major cities including the TajMahal as a tomb for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. All the characters inMoth Smoke are named after actual historical people who playedsignificant roles in the life of Emperor Shah Jahan.Moth Smoke is a book that can be read, reread, analyzed, interprete d, andenjoyed on many levels. But the casual reader does not need to delve intoits many layers, or know anything about Pakistan, in order to enjoy thebook. The novel has a compelling story in its own right--if the truth be told,its a literary page-turner.For me, Moth Smoke, has been one of the most fascinating books Ive readin the past year, but I must add this caveat: Ive just completely anacademic course on Pakistani history and culture, and this novel played asignificant role in helping me pull together all the complexity and abundantproblems Pakistan has to deal with on its road toward establishing a stabledemocracy.The book has much to recommend it: the prose is outstanding, thecharacters are wholly-real and unforgettable, the plot is darkly alluring, thestructure is intriguing, and the ending leaves you with a great deal toponder.If you finish the book and are curious about the authors take on its politicalthemes, I recommend you visit the authors website, navigate to interviewsand read the interview he had in 2000 with Newsweek magazineconcerning this novel.
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