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A Kinder Reader

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A Kinder Reader

When one thinks of stories that improve us as human beings, Aesop’s Fables comes to mind, not the dark, dank, heroin‑laced world of Mohsin Hamid’s Moth Smoke. But, reading is like fashion, and one man’s cherished plaid pants are another man’s horror. Not all fiction can directly dole out moral advice, such as Jane Austen’s warnings about the dangers of hasty judgment in Pride and Prejudice, but almost all fiction can proffer tales that at the very least expand our range of vision. Moth Smoke brings us, its intended American audience, into the foreign world of modern day Pakistan. The protagonist, Daru, is recently unemployed, in love with his best friend’s wife and cultivating a small heroin addiction. Hamid puts the readers front and center of this foreign world by making them the judges of Daru. To step out of your surroundings, even if only for 245 pages, changes you, makes you unable to step back into the exact mold of a former self you left behind. Your borders have shifted, been expanded, even if only by a fraction. Terry Eagleton brings these ideas to light in his book, Literary Theory, when he extrapolates on what it means to become a “better” person—a transformation in which, liberal humanists would argue, literature plays a part.1 At first glance Moth Smoke appears to be a novel left out of the running for this transformative seal of approval. How can a reader be morally transformed by a story that does not teach one how to “love thy neighbor” but rather the finer details of how to roll a joint while driving? But, after only a few pages Moth Smoke becomes a crash course in moral complexity, throwing readers head‑first into uncomfortable situations and then forcing them to make a...

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...y sympathetic. So the box is wide. The crime is violent and despicable: the needless killing of a boy. So the box is long. And the defense invokes a grand conspiracy, corruption, which is particularly resonant these days. So the box is tall” (38). Professor Superb’s dimensions of the box serve as a tangible example of the judgment the reader must make. In each direction, on every axis of the box is a different, but equally valid, moral decision to be made. Transformative literature such as Moth Smoke forces its readers to expand their empathy in order to make such decisions with clarity and conviction.

Notes

1. Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983).

2. All references in the text are to Mohsin Hamid, Moth Smoke (New York: Picador USA,

2000).

3. Eagleton, 210.

4. Eagleton, 208.

5. Eagleton, 208.