Moth Smoke

Moth Smoke

4.5 19
by Mohsin Hamid
     
 

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Available for the first time from Riverhead—the debut novel from the bestselling author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

Moth Smoke, Mohsin Hamid’s deftly conceived first novel, immediately marked him as an uncommonly gifted and ambitious young literary talent to watch when it was published in 2000. It tells the story of Daru

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Overview

Available for the first time from Riverhead—the debut novel from the bestselling author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

Moth Smoke, Mohsin Hamid’s deftly conceived first novel, immediately marked him as an uncommonly gifted and ambitious young literary talent to watch when it was published in 2000. It tells the story of Daru Shezad, who, fired from his banking job in Lahore, begins a decline that plummets the length of Hamid’s sharply drawn, subversive tale.

Fast-paced and unexpected, Moth Smoke was ahead of its time in portraying a contemporary Pakistan far more vivid and complex than the exoticized images of South Asia then familiar to the West. It established Mohsin Hamid as an internationally important writer of substance and imagination and the premier Pakistani author of our time, a promise he has amply fulfilled with each successive book. This debut novel, meanwhile, remains as compelling and deeply relevant to the moment as when it appeared more than a decade ago.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A first novel of remarkable wit, poise, profundity, and strangeness… Hamid is a writer of gorgeous, lush prose and superb dialogue… Moth Smoke is a treat." –Esquire

"Stunning… [Hamid] has created a hip page-turner about [his] mysterious country." –Los Angeles Times

"A brisk, absorbing novel… inventive… trenchant… Hamid steers us from start to finish with assurance and care." –Jhumpa Lahiri, The New York Times Book Review 

"Pakistan, seventh most populous country in the world, is one of the countries whose literature has been overlooked. Now its chair has been taken, and looks to be occupied for years to come, by the extraordinary new novelist Mohsin Hamid." –The Philadelphia Inquirer

"A subtly audacious work and prodigious descendant of hard-boiled lit and film noir… Moth Smoke is a steamy and often darkly amusing book about sex, drugs, and class warfare in postcolonial Asia." –The Village Voice

"Fast-paced, intelligent." –The New Yorker

"Friends, a love triangle, murder, criminal justice, hopelessness, humidity. It’s set in Lahore, there’s a beautiful woman. Her name is Mumtez and she smokes pot and cigarettes and drinks straight Scotch. Read this book. Fall in love." –Publishers Weekly

"The most impressive of his gifts is the clearsightedness of his look at the power structure of a society that has shifted from the old feudalism, based on birth, to the new Pakistani feudalism based on wealth." –The New York Review of Books

 
"Sharply observed… elegant and evocative… a substantial achievement." –Financial Times

"Brilliant… As relevant now as it was upon first publication twelve years ago." –The Millions

Sudip Bose

Indian writers of English prose are hot commodities these days, having plunged onto the Western literary scene like elephants into a placid pond. In India, the frenzy has caused a writing boom, inspired, perhaps, by the financial success of Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things. But what about literary Pakistan? Fewer writers have emerged from there, and those who have are often overshadowed by, or lumped together with, their Indian counterparts. Though their voices are distinct, many Pakistani and Indian writers do share a concern for the defining moment in their nations' histories: the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. Mohsin Hamid's bold and ironic first novel is set long after that seminal event, but in its evocation of the anxieties of modern Pakistani life, the legacies of Partition are everywhere apparent.

Moth Smoke is set in the summer of 1998, when Pakistan detonated its first nuclear weapons in an escalating test-for-test with India. Like the atoms that must be split for a fission bomb to explode, modern-day Lahore is itself divided: between old and new, rich and poor, conservative and liberal. Lost amid this fractured society is Daru, a young man fired from his job as a banker, whose two great passions are hash and his best friend Ozi's wife, Mumtaz. Daru, an intellectual wastrel, has a kind of underworld existence; unable to afford electricity or air conditioning, he lives alone in sweltering darkness. Ozi and Mumtaz, in contrast, run with Lahore's urban hip, the sushi-and-mobile-phone crowd.

We are told early on that Daru has killed a boy. But did he really do it? The discovery of the truth leads us along Daru's downward flight from stability to desperation, from salaried banker to low-life addict. Daru is wracked by devastating hunger, for food and drugs as well as for the radiant Mumtaz. (Think Knut Hamsun writing Pakistani noir.) When Daru departs after a meal at his uncle's house, he is consumed by the aroma of leftovers: "The smell makes me hungry even though I've just filled my stomach with as much as I thought it could hold...I wonder why my body has chosen this moment to give me such an appetite, when I can least afford it." The food Daru has just consumed is a luxury beyond his means, as is Mumtaz, with her glamorous life of sleek cars and elite parties, though that doesn't prevent him from pursuing her.

The book's dominant image is of a moth circling a flame. In the darkness of evening, Daru watches the strange seduction played out: the moth "spinning around the candle in tighter revolutions," attracted to the fire. Ignited, the moth is consumed. The lingering moth smoke reminds Daru of burning flesh -- his own, for this Icarus ends up singed by his own irresistible attractions.

To tell Daru's story, Hamid employs multiple narrators, each with a distinct voice, none entirely reliable. This variety is, to my taste, a flaw, since none of the others is as finely pitched as Daru's tragic, ironic voice. When Daru isn't speaking, the prose tends to the flamboyant, with overworked metaphors and relentless punning, adding up to a bad Salman Rushdie impersonation. All in all, though, Hamid has turned a beautiful trick: He has made an old formula -- man, woman and cuckolded husband -- into something fresh and luminous. Rather like a moth turned into a butterfly.
Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Set in Hamid's native Lahore, Pakistan, this first novel provides a pitch-perfect tale of the destruction of a young man. Socialy unconnected, Daru loses his precarious footing among the respectably employed and falls into an abyss of emotional depression, moral turpitude, and criminal activity. He goes from bank employee to drug dealer to holdup man, while falling in love with Mumtaz, the journalist wife of Ozi, Daru's boyhood best friend and rival. Ozi strips daru of his self-respect, and Mumtaz can never merely be Daru's lover, for she is both liberated and besieged by her own moral ambiguity. With a sure hand, hamid paints Daru, Lahore, the weight of Western materialist values, and evolving and devolving friendships, giving us near-photographic realism softened by the shading influences of well-turned phrases. Moving quickly but inviting prolonged retrospection, this first novel lays bare a human core that festers in its own unremitting heat. Hamid is a writer to watch. For all public libraries.-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley P.L., CA
The New Yorker
It's Hamid's achievement that we remained charmed by Daru throughout; the fast paced, intelligent narration pulls us, despite ourselves, into his spiralling wake.
Jhumpa Lahiri
[A] brisk, absorbing novel...Hamid steers us from start to finish with assurance and care.
The New York Times Book Review

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781594486609
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
12/04/2012
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
243,282
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.74(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt




Chapter One

My cell is full of shadows. Hanging naked from a wire in the hall outside, a bulb casts light cut by rusted bars into thin strips that snake along the concrete floor and up the back wall. People like stains dissolve into the grayness.

    I sit alone, the drying smell of a man's insides burning in my nostrils. Out of my imagination the footsteps of a guard approach, become real when a darkness silhouettes itself behind the bars and a shadow falls like blindness over the shadows in the cell. I hear the man who had been heaving scuttle into a corner, and then there is quiet.

    The guard calls my name.

    I hesitate before I rise to my feet and walk toward the bars, my back straight and chin up but my elbows tucked in close about the soft lower part of my rib cage. A hand slides out of the guard's silhouette, offering me something, and I reach for it slowly, expecting it to be pulled back, surprised when it is not. I take hold of it, feeling the envelope smooth and sharp against my fingers. The guard walks away, pausing only to raise his hand and pluck delicately at the wire of the bulb, sending the light into an uneasy shivering. Someone curses, and I shut my eyes against the dizziness. When I open them again, the shadows are almost still and I can make out the grime on my fingers against the white of the envelope.

    My name in the handwriting of a woman I know well.

    I don't read it, not even when I notice the damp imprints my fingers begin to leave in the paper.


Chapter Two

judgment
(before intermission)


You sit behind a high desk, wearing a black robe and a white wig, tastefully powdered.

    The cast begins to enter, filing into this chamber of dim tube lights and slow-turning ceiling fans. Murad Badshah, the partner in crime: remorselessly large, staggeringly, stutteringly eloquent. Aurangzeb, the best friend: righteously treacherous, impeccably dressed, unfairly sexy. And radiant, moth-burning Mumtaz: wife, mother, and lover. Three players in this trial of intimates, witnesses and liars all.

    They are pursued by a pair of hawk-faced men dressed in black and white: both forbidding, both hungry, but one tall and slender, the other short and fat. Two reflections of the same soul in the cosmic house of mirrors, or uncanny coincidence? It is impossible to say. Their eyes flick about them, their lips silently voice oratories of power and emotion. To be human is to know them, to know what such beings are and must be: these two are lawyers.

    A steady stream of commoners and nobles follows, their diversity the work of a skilled casting director. They take their places with a silent murmur, moving slowly, every hesitation well rehearsed. A brief but stylish crowd scene, and above it all you preside like the marble rider of some great equestrian statue.

    Then a pause, a silence. All eyes turn to the door.

    He enters. The accused: Darashikoh Shezad.

    A hard man with shadowed eyes, manacled, cuffed, disheveled, proud, erect. A man capable of anything and afraid of nothing. Two guards accompany him, and yes, they are brutes, but they would offer scant reassurance if this man were not chained. He is the terrible almost-hero of a great story: powerful, tragic, and dangerous. He alone meets your eyes.

    And then he is seated and it begins.

    Your gavel falls like the hammer of God.

    Perhaps a query (Where did I get this thing?) flashes through your mind before vanishing forever, like a firefly in the belly of a frog. But the die has been cast. There is no going back.

    The case is announced.

    The prosecutor rises to his feet, and his opening remarks reek of closure.

    "Milord," he says (and he means you), "the court has before it today a case no less clear than the task of the executioner. The accused has stretched out his neck beneath the heavy blade of justice, and there is no question but that this blade must fall. For he has blood on his hands, Milord. Young blood. The blood of a child. He killed not out of anger, not out of scheme or plan or design. He killed as a serpent kills that which it does not intend to eat: he killed out of indifference. He killed because his nature is to kill, because the death of a child has no meaning for him.

    "There can be no doubt here, Milord; no more facts exist to be found. The balancing of scales awaits, Milord; redress for wrong is come. Tender humanity screams in fear, confronted by such a monster, and conscience weeps with rage. The law licks its lips at the prospect of punishing such a one, and justice can shut its eyes today, so easy is its task."

    The prosecutor pauses, his words leaping about the courtroom like shadows cast by unsheathed knives in the flickering light of some dying candle.

    "For this, Milord, is his crime ..."

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"A first novel of remarkable wit, poise, profundity, and strangeness… Hamid is a writer of gorgeous, lush prose and superb dialogue… Moth Smoke is a treat." –Esquire

"Stunning… [Hamid] has created a hip page-turner about [his] mysterious country." –Los Angeles Times

"A brisk, absorbing novel… inventive… trenchant… Hamid steers us from start to finish with assurance and care." –Jhumpa Lahiri, The New York Times Book Review 

"Pakistan, seventh most populous country in the world, is one of the countries whose literature has been overlooked. Now its chair has been taken, and looks to be occupied for years to come, by the extraordinary new novelist Mohsin Hamid." –The Philadelphia Inquirer

"A subtly audacious work and prodigious descendant of hard-boiled lit and film noir… Moth Smoke is a steamy and often darkly amusing book about sex, drugs, and class warfare in postcolonial Asia." –The Village Voice

"Fast-paced, intelligent." –The New Yorker

"Friends, a love triangle, murder, criminal justice, hopelessness, humidity. It’s set in Lahore, there’s a beautiful woman. Her name is Mumtez and she smokes pot and cigarettes and drinks straight Scotch. Read this book. Fall in love." –Publishers Weekly

"The most impressive of his gifts is the clearsightedness of his look at the power structure of a society that has shifted from the old feudalism, based on birth, to the new Pakistani feudalism based on wealth." –The New York Review of Books
 
"Sharply observed… elegant and evocative… a substantial achievement." –Financial Times

"Brilliant… As relevant now as it was upon first publication twelve years ago." –The Millions

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