DUTY FREE

Moni Mohsin

Jane Austen’s Emma, transported to the outrageous social melee of 21st-century Lahore.

Our plucky heroine’s cousin, Jonkers, has been dumped by his low-class, slutty secretary, and our heroine has been charged with finding him a suitable wife — a rich, fair, beautiful, old-family type. Quickly. But, between you, me and the four walls, who wants to marry poor, plain, hapless Jonkers?

As our heroine social-climbs her way through weddings-sheddings, GTs (get togethers, of course) and ladies’ lunches trying to find a suitable girl from the right bagground, she discovers to her dismay that her cousin has his own ideas about his perfect mate.

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Jane Austen’s Emma, transported to the outrageous social melee of 21st-century Lahore.

Our plucky heroine’s cousin, Jonkers, has been dumped by his low-class, slutty secretary, and our heroine has been charged with finding him a suitable wife — a rich, fair, beautiful, old-family type. Quickly. But, between you, me and the four walls, who wants to marry poor, plain, hapless Jonkers?

As our heroine social-climbs her way through weddings-sheddings, GTs (get togethers, of course) and ladies’ lunches trying to find a suitable girl from the right bagground, she discovers to her dismay that her cousin has his own ideas about his perfect mate. And secretly, she may even agree.

Full of wit and wickedness and as clever as its heroine is clueless, Duty Free is a delightful romp through Pakistani high society — though, even as it makes you cry with laughter, it makes you wince at the gulf between our heroine’s glitteringly shallow life and the country that is falling apart, day by day, around her Louboutin-clad feet. Moni Mohsin, already a huge bestseller in India, has been hailed as a modern-day Jane Austen, and compared to Nancy Mitford and Helen Fielding. Duty Free is social satire at its biting best.

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  • Broadway
  • Paperback
  • September 2011
  • 272 Pages
  • 9780307889249

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$13.00

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About Moni Mohsin

Moni Mohsin is the author of the Indian bestseller The Diary of a Social Butterfly and the award-winning The End of Innocence.  Born in Pakistan, she currently lives in London. Duty Free is her American debut.

Praise

“Achingly funny, touching, and fizzing with intelligence, this book will have you laughing out loud even as you fear for the state of world politics.”Tash Aw, author of The Harmony Silk Factory

“Moni Mohsin is one of the funniest and sharpest satirists writing anywhere in the world today — she can make you laugh out loud even while she delivers hard-hitting critiques of Lahore high society and the state of Pakistani politics.”Kamila Shamsie

“Refreshing, humorous, irreverent, and satirical, Moni Mohsin’s Duty Free  is more than a boy-meets-girl story. It is an insightful social commentary.”—Bharti Kirchner, author of Darjeeling

“A delicious bon-bon of a book, skewering Pakistani society. Great good fun.”—Daniyal Mueenuddin, author of In Other Rooms, Other Wonders

Discussion Questions

Duty Free is set in Lahore, Pakistan, a bustling urban center.  At first glance, the sphere that our protagonist lives and moves in looks much like it would in any large global city, from New York to London to Dubai.  How does this presentation of Lahore match your expectations? How does it differ from the city you envisioned?

Our heroine is wonderfully absorbed in the details of her own life, to the point that she seems to willfully ignore the social, political, and economic upheaval just outside her front door.  Each chapter begins with headlines from the local newspaper, and the juxtaposition between the very real, very dire situation in Pakistan and the often quite superficial preoccupations of our narrator provide ripe fodder for social satire.  How does this compare to other fiction you have read?  Do you feel the narrator is more or less sympathetic by the end of the novel?  

In several places in the book, our protagonist discusses the importance of maintaining a home outside of Pakistan and of having foreign passports, should the family need to leave Pakistan quickly.  After our narrator and Mulloo are mugged, she asks Janoo if they can leave Pakistan and go somewhere “safe.”  Janoo tells her that “if we were to move, you would always miss this place. It is our home and without it we’d be homeless.”  Which position is the selfish one?  Which position is the right one?  Can “home” be created anywhere, or is it tied to the earth and the sky?

How is America’s relationship with Pakistan perceived by the characters in Duty Free? 

Our narrator met and married her husband through a traditional, arranged marriage, while her cousin Jonkers was determined to find his own mate.  At first, our protagonist seems unsympathetic to those who buck the system, but by the end of the novel, she has helped both Irum and Zain and Jonkers and Sana be together.  Why does she help these couples?  How does her view of love and marriage change over the course of the novel?  How has this changed her relationship with her own husband?  

Do you think that our protagonist and her husband, Janoo, are a good match? Do they have a happy marriage? 

How do family structures, as seen in Duty Free, differ from those in America? Do you think Pakistani family members are more supportive of each other or more controlling? Would you like to belong to such a family? 

Moni Mohsin has been called a modern day Jane Austen.  How do the themes and characters in Duty Free mirror those in Austen’s best known works?  

At the beginning of the novel, it appears as if the women in modern Lahore are defined by their relationships to others: by being good daughters, wives, mothers, friends.  As the novel progresses, we see more and more examples of women demonstrating their own agency and economic freedom by becoming independent business owners and breadwinners for their families.  Did any of these women surprise you?  What are the ramifications of Sana’s success?  Mulloo’s?  Jamila’s?

What is the family’s relationship to the “bore” village?  What is their responsibility to the people who live there? 

Our narrator speaks in a language all her own, rife with malapropisms and misspellings.  The effect is often quite funny, but there are moments when her descriptions are even more telling and accurate.  What are some of your favorite examples?