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Duty Free (2011)

(aka Tender Hooks)

Butterfly, our unnamed heroine in Lahore, Pakistan, is the quintessential girl from the privileged classes with a preoccupation for designer labels. This novel, which follows up The Diary of a Social Butterfly, takes the form of diary entries narrating the peppered happenings of her life - from her boring "Oxen" (read: Oxford educated) husband to the overblown kitty parties and wedding season to the fierce competition in her social life. She receives a command from her Aunt Pussy to quickly find a suitable (read: rich, fair, beautiful, old-family type) match for her hapless cousin Jonkers (who is not exactly marriage material - plain, shy and already divorced). Even though Butterfly's own marriage is on the rocks, she takes it all in her stride, wading her way through the the Pakistani wedding circuit in search of the right girl from the right "bagground". What ensues is a series of humorous incidents as she encounters a Smith-educated lesbian, fundamentalist parents and drug-smuggling families. To top it all, our protagonist has to look out for backstabbing frenemies, errant maidservants and beardo weirdos (suicide bombers) who are out to spoil her matrimonial mission. Butterfly is reminiscent of Jane Austen's Emma - a clueless socialite matchmaker, who believes she can make marriages happen and a man who loves her despite her shallowness. The most enjoyable part of this novel is undoubtedly the narration which is a cross between English and Urdu, a language rife with malapropisms and misspellings. At the beginning, it is a bit difficult to understand, but as you start getting the hang of it, you will clearly fall for it hook, line and sinker. The novel is sharply satirical as each chapter begins with headlines from the local newspaper which gives a kaleidoscope view of the social, political, and economic upheaval in Pakistan. I particularly loved the honest portrayal of the protagonist which made her neither perfect nor a villain. Also, you will laugh out loud at the various nicknames the author uses throughout the narration. This is an absolutely witty, funny and thought-provoking romp. (PD)

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