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MOTH SMOKE by Mohsin Hamid


by Mohsin Hamid

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-374-21354-2
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

First-person narration and interpolated “testimony” from his loved ones, cohorts, and victims are expertly interwoven in this dazzling first novel, a story that recounts the appalling misadventures of Pakistani equivalent of Donleavy’s Ginger Man or Amis’s Lucky Jim. Darashikeh (“Daru”) Shezad is a late—20-something bank employee (and former prizefighter), who’s living a reasonably high life (aided by recreational drugs) in Lahore—until an undiplomatic argument with an irascible bank customer costs him his job. Soon afterward, he’s scrambling to pay off his genial drug supplier, helplessly in love with his best friend Ozi’s gorgeous wife Mumtaz, and on trial for (one of the few crimes he hasn’t committed) vehicular homicide. Daru’s own account of his financial and moral lapses, which is by turns self-justifying and self-incriminating, is implicitly, and very interestingly, linked with the wild partying of “Lahore’s ultra-rich young jet set”), the complex aftermath of Pakistan’s first successful nuclear test (such as a “first nuclear monsoon”), and the (title) image—which Daru observes raptly—of moths drawn to a flame and thence to self-immolation. Hamid achieves a deft balance of tones and moods by juxtaposing Daru’s story with Mumtaz’s confession of her fixation on living a more exciting life (both as a pseudonymous investigative journalist and as Daru’s lover), Ozi’s impassioned and oddly moving castigation of his old comrade’s jealousy and ingratitude, and—most memorably—the pragmatic “moralizing” of Falstaffian Murad Badshah, who runs a thriving rickshaw business and drug trade, and blithely expands his operations to embrace armed robbery. A strong novelistic imagination is at work in this unusual and compelling debut: a rich, and genuinely disturbing view of the external and inner worlds of one of the most engagingly disgraceful antiheroes in recent fiction.