Reading Group Guide
1. 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?
2. 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?
3. 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?
4. How is America’s relationship with Pakistan perceived by the characters in Duty Free?
5. 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?
5. Do you think that our protagonist and her husband, Janoo, are a good match? Do they have a happy marriage?
6. 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?
7. 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?
8. 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?
9. What is the family’s relationship to the “bore” village? What is their responsibility to the people who live there?
10. 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?