Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mohammed Hanif, A Case of Exploding Mangoes

I kept being reminded of Catch-22 as I read this sharply satiric novel of political conspiracy and life in the military, published in 2008. Author Hanif's achievement is his ability to tell a story grounded in the history of a culture still foreign to Western readers that's as easy to appreciate as Heller's classic anti-war novel. For me, the laughs kept coming no matter what, even when the humor was so dark I didn't want to believe it could be based on what really happens in this cockeyed and benighted world.

The book begins with a fast forward to its ending the crash in 1988 of an airplane carrying Pakistani dictator General Zia, taking the lives of all on board, including several high-ranking military officials. Hanif then interweaves a number of entertainingly far-fetched plots, all of them contributing to not one but several conspiracies to assassinate Zia and all of them converging on that fateful flight.

What's exhilarating is the freedom Hanif takes in his rendering of the real-life characters. All of them are portrayed as more-or-less hapless clowns in a grand-scale collision of hubris, ambitions, ignorance, paranoia, and professional jealousies. And you realize that in a media-dominated age, where most of what we know about public figures is PR, spin, hype, and rumor anyway, a novelist is pretty much free to invent his own characterizations of them.

You can fault the book for its length, its occasional wandering off-course, and its lack of historical accuracy, but it is no more than what it sets out to be. The novel is a wild ride that attempts to reflect the absurdity of human behavior when what's at stake are positions of power and the vast sums of money that power attracts to itself.

A Case of Exploding Mangoes is currently available at amazon, AbeBooks, and for kindle and the nook. Friday's Forgotten Books is the bright idea of Patti Abbott over at pattinase.

Coming up: James Stewart, Night Passage (1957)

10 comments:

  1. I've passed on to you a blog award I received - I had to pick five favorite blogs and yours has been a favorite since I began reading it. If you'd like to participate, you can check out the rules here: http://thesecondsentence.blogspot.com/2012/02/liebster-award.html

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    1. Thanks, Elisabeth, for the kind consideration.

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  2. If it is like Catch 22, it'll be a riot to read. I'm chuckling already.

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  3. Twenty-four years on, General Zia's death in a plane crash still remains a mystery and there are enough conspiracy theories floating around. Little has changed in Pakistan since. "A Case of Exploding Pakistan" might be an apt title for a sequel.

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  4. Wikipedia says this guy graduated from the East Pakistani Air Force Academy before becoming a journalist and moving to London. Guess that means this novel was written in English, and is not a translation. That's a plus.

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  5. Wow. This is like an terrorist update of an old detective novel by forgotten author C. Daly King called Obelists Fly High. In that book the ending is presented first, the bulk of the book describes a long airplane flight from Chicago to Reno, Nevada and along the way a passenger is murdered while in flight. In the finale, called "The Prologue," you learn that everyone on board had been planning to kill the victim. Remarkable coincidence, I'd say. King's book was originally published in 1935. There is a cheap Dove Books paperback reprint easily available from numerous online sources.

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    1. John, thanks for making that connection. I also think of Agatha Christie's ORIENT EXPRESS.

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