A Case of Exploding Mangoes
By Mohammed Hanif
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307268075, 336pp.)
Publication Date: May 20, 2008
List Price: $24.00*
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A first novel of the first order—provocative, exuberant, wickedly clever—that reimagines the conspiracies and coincidences leading to the mysterious 1988 plane crash that killed Pakistan’s dictator General Zia ul-Haq.
At the center is Ali Shigri: Pakistan Air Force pilot and Silent Drill Commander of Fury Squadron. His father, one of Zia’s colonels, committed suicide under suspicious circumstances. Ali is determined to understand what or who pushed his father to such desperation—and to avenge his death.
What he quickly discovers is a snarl of events: Americans in Pakistan, Soviets in Afghanistan, dollars in every hand. But Ali remains patient, determined, a touch world-weary (“You want freedom and they give you chicken korma”), and unsurprised at finding Zia at every turn. He mounts an elaborate plot for revenge with an ever-changing crew (willing and not) that includes his silk-underwear-and-cologne-wearing roommate; a hash-smoking American lieutenant with questionable motives; the chief of Pakistan’s secret police, who mistakenly believes he’s in cahoots with the CIA; a blind woman imprisoned for fornication; Uncle Starchy, the squadron’s laundryman; and, not least of all, a mango-besotted crow. General Zia—devout Muslim and leering admirer of non-Muslim cleavage—begins every day by asking his chief of security: “Who’s trying to kill me?” and the answer lies in a conspiracy trying its damnedest to happen . . .
Intrigue and subterfuge combine with misstep and luck in this darkly comic book about love, betrayal, tyranny, family—and a world that unexpectedly resembles our own.
Mohammed Hanif heads the BBC’s Urdu service. He graduated from the Pakistan Air Force Academy and has since worked as a journalist and playwright. He lives in London.
“There are many reasons to read this excellent novel, and one for which it should be celebrated: Hanif has found in Zia a veritable Homer Simpson of theocratic zealotry . . . The inevitable comparison here is to Dr. Strangelove, and just as the Kubrick film crystallized the absurdities of nuclear escalation into an archetypal cast of idiots-who-run-the-world, Mangoes provides the necessary update.”
–New York Observer
“Witty, elegant, and deliciously anarchic. Hanif has a lovely eye and an even better ear.”
–John le Carré
“In this brilliant debut, Hanif takes a disarming moment in world history and embellishes it into a darkly comic series of events . . . The author is exceptional in sharing his intimate take on Pakistan and the dynamics of the military. He also has a sharp sense of humor that finds a place in his extraordinary and cleverly fashioned characters . . . The detail is rich, the prose resonant. This is an intelligent book indeed . . . Grade: A.”
–Rocky Mountain News
“Assassination has long been an appealing subject for male novelists: Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male, Richard Condon’s Manchurian Candidate, Frederick Forsyth’s Day of the Jackal, Don DeLillo’s Libra and James Ellroy’s American Tabloid. Hanif’s exuberant first novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, extends this tradition of assassination fiction and shifts it east to Pakistan . . . A historical novel with an eerie timeliness.”
–New York Times Book Review
“Hanif gallantly escorts readers right into the barracks in the darkly comic A Case of Exploding Mangoes . . . Like Catch-22, Mangoes is global satire with a savage bite . . . Richly imagined.”
“With perfect-pitch humor and insight, Hanif highlights the all-too-true buffoonery embedded in politics on the world stage.”
“Fascinating . . . It sardonically examines the workings of the Pakistani state, which comes off like a Third World Brazil imagined by Raymond Chandler. What really drives Mangoes, however, is Hanif’s sharp writing and considerable wit . . . Profoundly humanist.”
“Hanif’s book is sexy, subversive, and magical . . . Entertaining and original.”
“Hanif confidently tackles ‘the biggest cover-up in aviation history since the last biggest cover-up,’ bringing absurdist humor and surprising warmth to his story.”
“Funny, subversive, erotic, and sad. Anyone thinking of applying for the job of unhinged, religious dictator should read it first.”
–Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
“Unputdownable and darkly hilarious . . . Mohammed Hanif is a brave, gifted writer. He has taken territory in desperate need of satire–General Zia, the military, Pakistan at the time of the Soviet-Afghan war–and made it undeniably his own.”
–Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist
“A sure-footed, inventive debut that deftly undercuts its moral rage with comedy and deepens its comedy with moral rage . . . The novel has less in common with the sober literature of fact than it does with Latin American magical realism (especially novels about mythic dictators such as Gabriel García Márquez’s Autumn of the Patriarch) and absurdist military comedy (like Joseph Heller’s Catch-22). Hanif adopts a playful, exuberant voice, as competing theories and assassination plots are ingeniously combined and overlaid.”
“Pakistan’s ongoing political turmoil adds a piquant edge to this fact-based farce . . . Hanif’s depiction of military foibles recalls the satirical wallop of Catch-22. [He brings] heft to this sagely absurd depiction of his homeland’s history of political conspiracies and corruption.”
“Entertaining and illuminating . . . Hanif has crafted a clever black comedy about military culture, love, tyranny, family, and the events that eventually brought us to September 11, 2001.”