An easy, enjoyable read. I sat back and relaxed, reading it slowly, savoring the beautiful, almost lyrical prose.
“A breeze tastes my sweat and I shiver, shutting my eyes and raising my arms with it, wanting to fly. I walk in circles, tracing the ripples that would radiate if the stars fell from the sky through the lake of this lawn, one by one, like a rainstorm moving slowly into the breeze, toward the tree, each splash, each circle, closer.
And with a last stardrop, a last circle, I arrive, and she’s there, chemical wonder in her eyes.”
The writing is short, precise and witty. The novel starts and ends with a reference to the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and the war of succession amongst his sons. The characters names are symbolic as they are the same as Shah Jahan; Khurram, his sons; Dara Shikoh, Shuja, Murad, Aurangzeb, wife; Mumtaz and grandson from Aurangzeb; Muazzam, and Manucci, who worked in the service of Dara Shikoh and somewhat suffer the same fate as their historical counterparts.
Set in the bustling city of Lahore, called the Heart of Pakistan, during the summer of 1998 when Pakistan was testing for Nuclear bombs, it is a more liberal than a true portrayal of the corrupt and decadent elite class of Lahore which only a few of Pakistanis will identify with. At the same time, the occasional vernacular and Pakistani slang, a bit of Pakistani culture and the names of the streets of Lahore are very reaffirming to the Pakistani reader.
Moth Smoke revolves around three people: Darashikoh “Daru” Shezad; the orphan anti-hero, Mumtaz Kashmiri; the wife of his best friend, Murad Badshah; his drug supplier, while Aurangzeb “Ozi” Shah, Daru’s best friend is a secondary character.
The book is mostly a monologue coming from Daru but other chapters are a series of flashbacks narrated by different characters giving great insight into them, and one even putting you in the shoes of an overworked judge in session at court.
Daru’s childhood best friend Ozi has come back from the States after many years with an attractive wife on one arm and a child in the other. Ozi is the son of a corrupt wealthy man, who was Daru’s patron, a typical by-product of a politically corrupt society.
“…bigger cars have the right of way.”
Daru loses his job, and with that his self-esteem and his shaky position on the fringes of Lahore’s elite society.
Mumtaz and Daru are drawn to each other from the moment they meet, both like a moth to a flame, torn between desire and the people they hold dear and feel obligated to.
It is the story of a man unable to deal with his circumstances and his social status, and whose sense of entitlement, envy, disdain and haughtiness leads him to his own inevitable destruction.
The novel is about social hierarchy, lust, depravity, drugs, unemployment, addiction, obsession and the corruption in third world countries where the rich feed on poor like vultures.
What I can definitely say about this novel is less is more. One very interesting and simple but witty part of the novel was using air conditioning as the control factor between the elites and the masses. The characters were very raw, well-thought and deftly constructed. The writing was not only arresting but thought-provoking.
The end of the novel was poetically just in my opinion but still, it leaves you hanging, unable to decide.
“When the uncertain future becomes the past, the past, in turn, becomes uncertain.”