A Case of Exploding Mangoes is Mohammed Hanif's debut novel, set in Pakistan. It is a political comedy; exploring the mystery surrounding the assassination of General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, the military dictator of Pakistan. THis book came to my attention at the Sydney Writers Festival 2009, when I watched Mohammed Hanid do a reading from the book. It appealed to me very much. Hanif had a wonderful reading voice, and I didn't want him to stop. I finally managed to read the book 1 week before the Sydney Writers Festival 2010.
Assassination fiction is not a genre that I am overly familiarly with, but I can say without reservation this is the funniest and cleverest book that I have opened in a very long time.
We know that General Zia is killed wen his C130-Hercules plane, Pak One, explodes and crashes in August 1988, after General Zia has been watching a military display. A Case of Exploding Mangoes takes a unique look at what, or who, may have been responsible. But it is that not a typical exploration of this question. The publisher's description of the book reads:
"There is an ancient saying that when lovers fall out, a plane goes down. This is the story of one such plane. Why did a Hercules C130, the world's sturdiest plane, carrying Pakistan's military dictator General Zia ul-Haq, go down on 17 August 1988? Was it because of:The plot is ingenious and complex, and the main character Ali Shigri has a very clear, unique and sardonic voice. The story is told through a series of vignette's; mostly comprised of the events from Shigri's perspective, but also third-person accounts of events from the perspective of various other characters, like General Zia himself.
Or could it be the narrator Ali Shigri?"
- Mechanical failure
- Human error
- The CIA's impatience
- A blind woman's curse
- Generals not happy with their pension plans
- The mango season
I can't really go into the plot too much for fear of spoiling the fun if you decide to read this book, which I recommend that you do. I will say that the characterisation is extremely rich, every person comes alive before the readers eyes. There is a whole range of fun characters including Lieutenant Bannon, an American who is part of the Pakistan Army, Obaid or Baby O, Shirgri's best and closest friend and Uncle Starchy, the Army Academy's laundryman (who comes to play a significant role).
The story largely plays out in a Pakistani Airforce Academy, and begins when Shigri is being blamed for Obaid's disappearance in an Airforce plane. It is evtually revealed that Shigri has developed an assassination plot, because he believes that General Zia is responsible for the death of his father. At the very beginning we are suspicious of Shigri's true involvement in General Zia's downfall, particularly after he proudly states: "The only witness to that televised walk, the only one to have walked that walk, would be completely ignored. Because if you missed that clip, you probably missed me. Like history itself, I was the one who got away." This quote gives you a good insight into the tone of the book, and Shigri's feelings toward the role he played in the death of Zia.
Ultimately, it is not important who killed General Zia. This book is a political satire, it satirises the military using caricature and very clever one-liners, like "You can blame our men in uniform for anything, but you can never blame them or being imaginative" and "By the time it comes down to the questions about whether I would rescue my best friend's kitten drowning in a river or tell myself that cats can swim, I have begun to enjoy the test, and my pencil ticks the squares with the flourish of someone celebrating their own sanity."
Amoungst all the fun though, Hanif makes some important statements about the role of military in controling the State, the role of religion in government and the way in which governments can manipulate the population for their own benefit.
If you are looking for something fun, unique and thoughtful, the A Case of Exploding Mangoes is for you.
What kind of read is this?
It is not a challenging book in terms of its length and the writing, but it is an absolutely unique and hilarious book. It is a political satire and it is historical fiction, but with some important modern messages.
Do I recommend this book?
Absolutely. There are not many books that I could recommend more highly.
Do I recommend that you buy this book?
Yes, this is one that I am proud to have on my shelf, and one that I know will stand up to lots of re-reading.
Book Details: Paperback, 295 pages, published by Vintage Books, published in 2008, English