Monday, November 24, 2008


How exactly did Mohammed Hanif escape not being put on some notorious fatwa (akin to the one ordered against Salmon Rushdie) for having written the blasphemous, Catch-22-like A Case of Exploding Mangoes? At least, you would think, some mysterious Moslem assassins or shadowy Pakistani military death squads would be hunting down the author, angry over his humorous, cynical take on General Zia-al-Huq, Islam, government, intelligence services, US-Pakistani relations, jihad in Afghanistan (against the Soviets), and many other topics, not to mention the naughty language and homosexual encounters. Just the sentence "Allah’s house was just a dark, empty room," should have sparked slogan-shouting in the streets---you know, with banners and all. Certainly the family of dictatorial General Zia wanted to haul Hanif into court for slander!!! Of course, these things apparently have not happened, thankfully. So, is this book worth reading? Hell, yes. And this his first book to boot. Maybe that is why Hanif lives in London.

What a perfect scenario for a fiction writer to play with. The mysterious death by plane crash of Zia, several of his generals, and the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan had left many conspiracy theories---a wonderful happenstance that allows Hanif to apply his imagination and sharp critiques in a readable and funny book. Sinister undertones are teased from the mess that is the protagonist Ali Shigri’s life. A junior air officer in training, he is the son of a deceased (suicide or murder, you decide) highly decorated Pakistani military officer who helped run the jihad against the Soviets (and may or may not have been involved in siphoning off a little American green).

The book says a lot about the paranoia and stupidity of military dictatorships. He comments on the cruelty and illogical thinking of religious fundamentalists, the backstabbing and mentality of men in military hierarchies and intelligence services. He pokes fun at bumbling American foreign service personnel and military advisors, as well as at American culture. He even takes a humorous shot at a young Osama bin Laden.

He could have used a better editor though, as several times very similar passages were used (such as "the asphalt melting under his boots"). Overall, though, I would encourage people to try this book.

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