Moth Smoke by Mohsin Hamid
Outermost layer 1 (presented in italics): The aging, ailing Emperor Shah Jahan asks a Sufi saint which of his sons will inherit his coveted throne.
Penultimate layer 2 (chapters one and nine, italics lost): An unnamed man in a jail cell “full of shadows” receives an envelope … and eventually begins to read.
The core: The prime characters just happen to share the names of Emperor Shah Jahan’s family. Did you pay attention? And what exactly are their relationships to each other?
Darushikoh Shezad is the man accused. In brave new Pakistan – powered by cell phones and the growing possibility of nuclear power – the once promising Daru has been fired from his bank job. Unable to find work, he loses himself further when his recreational drug use becomes abusive, fueled by his sometime dealer Murad. Recently reunited with his childhood best friend Aurangzeb (Ozi, to his nearest and dearest) who has returned to Pakistan with his American degrees, Daru is immediately enthralled by his almost-brother’s gorgeous new wife Mumtaz. As the title hints, think moths – far too close to the proverbial flame …
Mohsin Hamid – Pakistani-born, Princeton and Harvard educated, peripatetically domiciled – layers, weaves, and transforms his global experiences to create a rare debut novel that hit shelves 13 years ago with confidence and grace, engaging and disturbing both. If you’re wondering about the audible version, it’s read by actor Satya Babha (watch for him in Deepa Mehta’s film adaptation of Midnight’s Children, hitting U.S. theaters this May), and is quite an enriched experience – Babha’s affected stutter for Murad (not on the page), for example, is a daring enhancement.
In the decade-plus that follows Hamid’s lauded literary entry (Moth won a 2001 Betty Trask Award, was a finalist for the 2001 PEN/Hemingway Award, and shortlisted for the 2001 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book), time had only made him better: The Reluctant Fundamentalist and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia are both not-to-be-missed-read-right-now(!) titles. That said, I must responsibly offer a sobering reminder: savor Hamid’s novels wisely, because patience will need to be a virtue while we wait, wait, wait for his as-yet-unpublished titles to come.