Mohsin Hamid

Topics: Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Novel Pages: 6 (2227 words) Published: June 24, 2013

Mohsin Hamid is the author of three novels: Moth Smoke (published in 2000), a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award; The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007), a million-copy international bestseller that was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, made into a feature film, and named one of the books that defined the decade by the Guardian; and, most recently, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (2013). His fiction has appeared in the New Yorker, Granta, and the Paris Review and been translated into over 30 languages. The recipient of numerous awards, he has been called "one of his generation's most inventive and gifted writers" by the New York Times, "one of the most talented and formally audacious writers of his generation" by the Daily Telegraph, and "one of the most important writers working today" by the Daily Beast. He also regularly writes essays on themes ranging from literature to politics and is a contributor to publications around the world, including the New York Times, the Guardian, the New York Review of Books, Dawn, and La Repubblica. A self-described mongrel, he was born in 1971 in Lahore, Pakistan, and has lived about half his life there. The rest he has spent drifting between places such as London, New York, California, the Philippines, and Italy. “Moth Smoke”

Moth Smoke is a steamy (in both senses) and often darkly amusing book about sex, drugs, and class warfare in postcolonial Asia. Hamid struc- tures Moth Smoke somewhat like a murder trial. On the stand is Daru, a cynical, hash-loving 28-year-old bank drone and onetime boxer now accused of running over a child. Daru relates his decline and fall after being fired from the bank (a moment he compares to a "quick sidestep in un- reality, like meeting your mother when you're tripping") in chapters that alternate with self-justifying monologues by the witnesses against him.Moth Smoke foregrounds Daru's slacker predisposition and resentment toward the aristocrats (with whom he associates but cannot join) against an apocalyptic background of nuclear testing reminiscent ofRobert Aldrich's 1955 film-version take onMickey Spillane's Kiss Me Deadly. An underdog redress occurs when Daru steals his rich best friend Ozi's wife, Mumtaz, a discontented young mother who has become a clandestine investigative reporter since moving back to Lahore, Pakistan, from New York. Their romance generates big heat and smoke and Hamid leaves no nook or cranny of the fire metaphor unexplored, reinvigorating its archetypal metaforce with everything from the titular play of moth and flame to the apocalyptic burnout of nuclear war. When Daru and Mumtaz meet for the first time, she leaves a smoldering cigarette butt in an ashtray bed. "I crush mine into it," relates Daru, "grinding until both stop burning." Daru's meager resources wane as the couple's passion intensifies, and their relationship—not unlike that binding India to Pakistan—threatens to destroy everyone around them. Halfway through the book, to cool things off, Hamid tosses in an only slightly ironic chapter titled "what lovely weather we're having (or the importance of air-conditioning)," in which Daru's former economics professor discusses how Pakistan's elite "have managed to re-create for themselves the living conditions of say, Sweden, without leaving the dusty plains of the subcontinent." Although the novel is woozy with alcohol, hash, Ecstasy, and heroin, they serve less as pleasure vehicles than as tokens of societal decadence. Daru's social status plummets even further when he becomes a part-time dealer to the rich kids who overpay for his wares. Maneuvering in the background are the hardcore Islamic "fundos," whose one-size-fits-all fanaticism, Hamid suggests, possesses seductive qualities no less compelling than Ozi's self-righteous aria justifying his own corruption (he's not a bad guy, he argues; he just makes people jealous). As for Daru, Hamid leaves unclear whether...
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