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Duty Free    by Moni Mohsin order for
Duty Free
by Moni Mohsin
Order:  USA  Can
Crown, 2011 (2011)
Softcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Moni Mohsin's flighty heroine has a unique voice in Duty Free, set in modern Lahore, Pakistan. I'll let her speak for herself on the subject of her aunt's choice of restaurant ... 'It's a bit bore that Cuckoo's is in the old city, with its bad toilet smells and all its crumbly, crumbly, old, old houses but at least all those prostitutes who used to live nearby in the Diamond Market have gone off to Defence Housing Society to live in neat little kothis their politician and feudal boyfriends have bought them.'

As the story opens, our heroine is gently blackmailed by her Aunt Pussy into finding a wealthy bride from the right bagground for her thirty-seven year old accountant cousin Jonkers. He doesn't particularly want - or need - anyone's help, but he does badly need a makeover. Our heroine presents her Aunt with a succession of possibilities (from a wealthy lesbian to a drug smuggler's daughter), none of whom work out for different reasons, until Jonkers takes matters into his own hands, with only a little help from his Apa.

At first the reader sees the protagonist through her Oxford-educated husband Janoo's eyes and she appears sadly lacking when he accuses, 'Your country is in flames and all you can think of is partying! Are you off your head?' But there's a gradual metamorphosis for the reader (and for Janoo) who begin to see her as a more sympathetic (and certainly courageous), though still basically shallow individual. And there's some wisdom - not to mention sick-sense - in her views of the beardo-weirdos and other afflictions of the place where she lives.

If you're looking for a highly entertaining read, offering Westerners a very different view of modern Pakistan from the media norm, you won't go wrong with the lighthearted Duty Free.

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