Tuesday, 6 January 2009

A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif

This was a random library pick. I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover but in this case, that and the title swayed my decision to read this book. But I'm glad they did because it was brilliant. It starts with the death of Pakistan's military dictator General Zia ul-Haq in plane crash in 1988. This is a documented fact, but that is where fact ends and satirical, speculative fiction begins.

The novel switches between narratives from Ali Shigri, a Pakistani military officer, and General Zia himself. Zia himself is a superstitious dictator who treats the Quran as a daily horoscope and believes everybody is out to kill him, which turns out to be fairly accurate. The story gradually unfolds to show the hypocrisy and double crossing always present behind the scenes of a military dictatorship. His actual cause of death could be anything from mechanical failure to a blind woman's curse, with tapeworms, his own generals and the CIA in between. Not forgetting the exploding Mangoes!

This book is laugh out loud funny in places, mildly amusing in others, and thought provoking throughout. The characters are fairly 2 dimensional and I do have to say I never really felt any emotional attachment to any of them. This could be because the reader is never really sure whether they are heroes or villains though, or a mixture of both. This did not detract from my enjoyment of the book because I read it to find out what would happen and how all the threads would tie together, characterisation was not really necessary. The appearance of a man named OBL from the laden construction company did make me chuckle slightly though!

This book has also added to my ever growing reading list as its sparked an interest in discovering about Pakistan in the 1980's and more specifically what actually is known about how General Zia ul-Huq died.

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