Reviews of Moth by Melody Razak

Moth

A Novel

by Melody Razak

Moth by Melody Razak X
Moth by Melody Razak
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Aug 2022, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Book Summary

Melody Razak makes her literary debut with this internationally-acclaimed saga of one Indian family's trials through the tumultuous partition - the 1947 split of Pakistan from India - exploring its impact on women, what it means to be "othered" in one's own society, and the redemptive power of family.

Delhi, 1946. Fourteen-year-old Alma is soon to be married despite her parents' fear that she is far too young. But times are perilous in India, where the country's long-awaited independence from the British empire heralds a new era of hope—and danger. In its wake, political unrest ripples across the subcontinent, marked by violent confrontations between Hindus and Muslims. The conflict threatens to unravel the rich tapestry of Delhi—a city where different cultures, religions, and traditions have co-existed for centuries. The solution is partition, which will create a new, wholly Muslim, sovereign nation—Pakistan—carved from India's northwestern shoulder. Given the uncertain times, Alma's parents, intellectuals who teach at the local university, pray that marriage will provide Alma with stability and safety.

Alma is precocious and headstrong, and her excitement over the wedding rivals only her joy in spinning wild stories about evil spirits for her younger sister Roop. But when Alma's grandmother—a woman determined to protect the family's honor no matter the cost—interferes with the engagement, her meddling sets off a chain of events that will wrench the family apart, forcing its members to find new and increasingly desperate ways to survive in the wake of partition.

Set during the most tumultuous years in modern Indian history, Melody Razak recreates the painful turmoil of a rupturing nation and its reverberations across the fates of a single family. Powerfully evocative and atmospheric, Moth is a testament to survival and a celebration of the beauty and resilience of the human spirit.

Prologue

Lahore, Pakistan, May 1948

In a makeshift sling across her chest, she holds a sleeping baby. A swaddled baby who drinks in her mother's scent, the promise of milk, and moves her mouth in quiet sucks like tight petals blooming.

In the dark corridor, she slips a hand into the sling, grips through the cotton the steel of a paring knife. Next to the knife is a vial of rosewater, next to the vial, a newspaper twist of turmeric.

She wishes she hadn't promised. Only, the birth had been so hard, with the old stitches unravelling, and the girl had thought she would surely die. She had not known that the child pressed to her chest could be so warm.

She clutches the baby now and walks outside, stands on the garden path. It is raining.

I was not expecting you, says the girl to the rain.

I'm here for you, says the rain. I'm not supposed to be here at all. This will confuse everyone.

Thank you for coming.

The rain is as good as her word. Hot rainwater falls so fast and thick, she ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

As partition approaches and the drama ramps up, the narrative transforms from character-driven to action-driven. It's these chapters that make Moth a standout; Razak's prose elicits a visceral reaction in her audience as each character is consumed by events they can't control, and the overall atmosphere of tension is palpable. It's one of the most unforgettable novels on the subject that I've encountered, and I found reading it an intense experience...continued

Full Review Members Only (636 words).

(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

The Independent (UK)
Both a heartbreaking and heart-warming story…Razak hones in on the strength and suffering of women; with moments as small as sharing stories, cooking food and plaiting hair becoming lifelines. Moth has a backdrop of religion, politics, class and violence, but the central focus is on family life. The character portrayal is so intricate that as the plot twists and turns, you'll truly care what happens to them. 9/10.

The Times (UK)
Gripping... . Razak painstakingly paints a portrait of a family; their rituals, their private languages, their shared lives. This careful characterisation pays off, heartbreakingly, when the horrors of partition wreak havoc on small, happy lives.

Booklist (starred review)
The depth of characterization is remarkable, as is the evocation of place...This is a devastating yet vital tale of suffering and strength from an exceptional debut author.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Razak's carefully structured narrative skillfully builds the growing sense of dread that has anxious readers fearing for her richly drawn characters. The author, who was inspired by a BBC audio series called 'Partition Voices' and who traveled extensively across India, writes with sensitivity and empathy, vividly capturing the rhythms of daily Indian life as well as the harrowing sectarian and ethnic upheavals that upended so many lives. An exceptional novel that is historical fiction at its finest.

Library Journal (starred review)
Indian political history is effectively played out in this intense, focused debut, with Razak's eloquent writing making historical events seem like they are just taking place now

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Razak debuts with a brilliant tale of a Delhi family's ordeal during the turmoil of India's partition in 1947...The settings are evocative, and the unhurried pace allows the narrative to take in a wide sweep of history beyond partition, including Gandhi's assassination; however, it's Alma's family and their servants who power this tale with their rituals and resiliency. It's an exceptional, beautifully written story.

Author Blurb Anna Hope, author of Expectation
I was utterly transported by Moth. In exquisite prose, Melody Razak takes us right to the heart and the heat of Partition-era Delhi - a fracturing city, a fracturing nation and a family attempting to hold themselves together when everything threatens to tear them apart. Moth is a rare, winged delight—able to stare unflinchingly into the darkness, while always illuminated by a fierce love for life. A stunning, powerful work by a brave new voice in British fiction.

Author Blurb Thrity Umrigar, bestselling author of Honor and The Space Between Us
A heartbreaking and heartwarming novel that exposes the ugliness of religious enmities and affirms the redemptive beauty of love and homecoming. Razak unflinchingly recreates the horror of Partition and its devastating effect on one family. The result is a novel that feels surprisingly timely and relevant.

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Beyond the Book

The Churel

A three-dimensional depiction of a dakini, standing over a man in a threatening pose In Melody Razak's novel Moth, one of the characters is fascinated by the legend of the churel, and the mythological being is mentioned several times throughout the plot.

A churel (also spelled "chudail," "churail" and as other variations) is a staple of South Asian folklore, encountered most frequently in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The being is created when a woman dies after being wronged or mistreated by her family and/or dies during pregnancy, childbirth or while menstruating. She's often described as hideously ugly, with wild hair, a pot belly, sagging breasts, boar-like fangs and a long, black tongue. She is also, however, a shape-shifter who can appear to her victims as a beautiful woman. The only constant is her feet, ...

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