Mohsin Hamid is the author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a book that I really liked. So I checked out his other two books to read. This is his debut book.
Darashikoh Shezad is a disillusioned, frustrated banker living a dissatisfied middle-class life in Lahore, Pakistan. Family and social circumstances have restricted his opportunities in life and this embitters him, turning him into a sour, jaded young man. Frustration slowly mounts and one day he vents out on a sleazy client and ends up losing his job. Due to rampant nepotism and other corrupt practices, he struggles to find another job to support himself. At this time, he reconnects with his best friend from school - a man half as smart and capable as him and with less-than-stellar character - who now has a western education, and a luxurious life complete with a beautiful, intelligent wife, and an adorable son. The two friends have such divergent paths, thanks to one major difference in their lives - a wealthy father. His friend was privileged enough to have one, and he did not. When Darashikoh sees the contrast between their two lives, the unfairness of the situation hits him hard and he begins to have conflicting emotions of jealousy and guilt towards his friend’s life. With bills piling, he tries to escape reality by living a heedless life of drugs and adultery. He starts making questionable choices, and slowly, one thing leads to another, and his poor choices quickly escalate to small crimes. Mired in complications, he gradually loses control of his life and gets trampled by the brutal social system in which the upper class always has sway over the lives of those beneath them. This story is about the stifling social & political structures of a corrupt city that lead to the gradual spiraling descent of Darashikoh into hopeless, helpless, self-destruction.
As with his other book, I really liked the writing. Most of the characters, except for the only woman in the story were convincing and well developed. The woman read like a man… the way she thought and acted was unconvincing to me. As for the story, it really captures Darashikoh’s intense resentment towards the way his life has meandered. There were so many things he could have done with his life, but he gives up pursuing anything because of his intense repulsion and dissatisfaction with the corrupt ways of his society. Darashikoh’s resignation over life and his total loss of motivation to redeem his life was frustrating. I could sympathize with him for sure, but only to a certain extent. I didn’t agree or sympathize with him completely shrugging off responsibility for his life and making incrementally poor choices. He could have turned around his life if he was willing to take responsibility and work for it, but his inner spirit had wilted. However, I understand that his story is one of the many ways in which a young man’s life can veer off course due to the untamed consequences of social and economic disparity in a developing country. Obviously, Pakistan and India share almost the same socio-economic issues. One can easily substitute Lahore with any Indian city or town, and the story and characters would still fit in perfectly. In this regard, the book hits a familiar note.
Despite my few frustrations with the protagonist’s choices, I found the book engaging and well-written for an absorbing read.