Moni Mohsin on the U.S. Debut of Her Novel Duty Free

The Unique Joys of Being Published on Three Different Continents
By Moni Mohsin

My two children, aged twelve and nine, sometimes ask me which of them I love more. I tell them that they are like my two eyes – equally precious. So it is with my books. Born of my imagination, my books are also like my children and so, regardless of how well they do or how they are viewed by the world, equally beloved.

Duty Free is my third literary child. My earlier books were published in the Subcontinent and the UK. They had the same cover in both territories and were pretty much the same product. But Duty Free is different. Published a few months apart in the UK, India and Pakistan as well as America, it’s had different covers, different titles and due to the very distinct reading public each is catering to, different treatment from publishers. Not surprisingly, it has evoked different responses from readers in each place.

In the Subcontinent, where Duty Free is set, most readers are familiar with the sort of characters that people my book. My heroine – a screamingly shallow but nonetheless endearing socialite – seems to be someone many know intimately.

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At parties in London, Delhi, Lahore I am often asked by Prada clad, botoxed ladies, ‘Who is she?’

‘Who is who?’

‘You know, the woman in your book. Is she so and so? I swear it’s her. I know it’s her. Now don’t deny, okay?’

Interestingly, she never reminds anyone of themselves.

Often complaining that her ‘life’s so bore,’ my heroine speaks in a uniquely Subcontinental English, peppered with misspellings (bagground, Tom Fort) and malapropisms (‘she’s a suppository of local gossip’). Though this is the spoken lingo of millions, readers in India and Pakistan are not accustomed to encountering it on the printed page. An entire book written in this chutneyfied English therefore is cause for much hilarity and surprised delight. Readers write to me in the voice of the heroine, letters and emails about their picaresque lives, which in turn surprise and delight me.

I confess I was anxious when the book came out in the UK.  Would English readers understand the language? Would they get the social setting? To my great relief, they not only got the language but also understood my larger purpose. While relishing its comedic aspects they homed in on its serious under-tow. Reading headlines in newspapers about terrorism is one thing but discovering how it affects the every day lives of people who are just like oneself is quite another.

Readers ask how my friends and family manage to send their kids to school when they’re under threat from extremists. Or how we dare to go into crowded bazaars when so many have been targeted by suicide bombers. I tell them we carry on because we have to.

Since the US edition of my book is only just now coming out, I can’t yet report on American readers’ reactions. I love all three editions equally but as my heroine would say, ‘between you, me and the four walls,’ I’m most excited about this one. That’s because it’s the first time I’ve been published in the US. So as Duty Free sails out into the New World, I watch from the sidelines, anxious but hopeful.

Duty Free is perfect for book groups! Download the reader’s guide for Duty Free by Moni Mohsin.

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moni-mohsinMONI MOHSIN is the author of the Indian bestseller The Diary of a Social Butterfly based on her hit column in Pakistan’s Friday Times and a novel, The End of Innocence. Born in Pakistan, she lives in the UK. Duty Free is her American debut.

RIFers! What’s your favorite novel or film set in India? We want to know – leave a comment!

About Kira Walton

KIRA WALTON has been stalking books all her life as a college English teacher, bookseller, book club consultant, author, and editor.

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