Daru loses his job at a bank and his life spirals out of control. Aurangzeb, or Ozi as he’s known to his friends, courts and parties with the elite of Lahore who never lack for hash, Scotch, and ecstasy. Mumtaz, Ozi’s lovely wife, writes about Pakistan’s demimonde under a pseudonym. Murad Badshah is the outlaw captain of a rickshaw fleet. Moth Smoke is told through the eyes of these finely drawn characters.
Author Mohsin Hamid is a protean novelist who never repeats himself; each of his novels, including The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Exit West, is unique. Hamid trains a knowing eye at places where the West and the Islamic world intersect, where tradition clashes with modernity, and where the privileged few meet the desperate many. In Moth Smoke, Hamid depicts a Pakistan where the wealthy and socially well-connected operate with near immunity, and the poor remain in the stations of their birth. Daru and Ozi were childhood friends, as close as brothers, but it was Ozi’s father, a high-ranking government official not above profitable corruption, who opened doors for Daru that would otherwise have remained closed for a boy of his humble origin.
As Daru’s life slides into dissolution, drug dealing, and crime, he and Mumtaz begin a doomed love affair. Both are trapped in their situations for different reasons, but only Daru believes in a future together. “I was never going to leave Ozi for you,” Mumtaz tells Daru. “I told you that from the beginning.” Like a moth circling a candle flame, Daru is destined to fly too close to that which he cannot obtain.
Mohsin Hamid will appear in the UCSB Arts & Lectures Speaking with Pico Series in April 2020.