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Review-a-Day
Esquire
Wednesday, August 28th, 2002


 

Moth Smoke

by Mohsin Hamid

The High Life in Pakistan

A review by Adrienne Miller

Surface: The downward trajectory of Daru, a 29-year-old n'er'-do-well in Larhore, Pakistan. His tumble, nutshelled, in more or less chronological order: first he loses his job, then smokes too many cigarettes, then he smokes too much hash, then weed, then he starts selling hash, then he commits armed robbery, and (maybe) murder, loses his air conditioner, sleeps with the wife of his so-called best friend (arch enemy is more like it), smokes too much heroin (a.k.a. "hairy"), and is imprisoned for a murder (which he did or didn't commit).

Guts: A first novel of remarkable wit, poise, profundity and strangeness, Moth Smoke, with equal parts horror and wonder, explores life in contemporary Pakistan. There are four speakers telling the story of Daru's series of no-nos: Daru (aforementioned); Murad Badshah, a self-described "MA, rickshaw fleet captain and land pirate," a Robin Hood figure who leads Daru into a life of crime; Mumtaz, Daru's lover, a woman who loves neither her son nor her husband; and Ozi, evilly charismatic "best friend" and possible framer of Daru. Hamid is a writer of gorgeous, lush prose and superb dialogue. Despite a perhaps too-tidy conclusion, Moth Smoke is a treat, a decadent one.

Choice narration (in this case, by Daru): "I kill [the moths] when I catch them, until my fingers are slick with their silver powder. But most of the house is dark at night, and there's little I can do about the invasion. Sometimes...I get stoned and take out my badminton racquet to smash a few. Occasionally the biggest ones make a pleasing little ping as I lob them into the ceiling, but more often they just explode silently into clouds of dust."

50-cent insight (feel free to claim as your own): None of the characters is particularly admirable -- they're all quite creepy, in fact -- but one of the marvels of this novel is its deftness in treating all its people with an equal fairness. Nobody thinks he's corrupt, right? As Alexander Pope said, "One truth is clear, 'Whatever is, is right.'"


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