Thursday, March 31, 2011

18. A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif

Another Chainon find. I had no idea about this book, being interested in it purely from its cover. But I did discern that this copy was originally published in Pakistan or India and that it was very popular in that region. I thought it was going to be a military thriller, which it partially is. It's not aimed at the genre audience, though, but rather at an educated reader who reads modern trade paperback literature. Nevertheless, a pretty interesting and mostly enjoyable read.

The book has two parallel storylines the ultimately run into one another. The first is about an air force cadet in the Pakistani military whose roommate disappears. He is blamed for it and sent into a process of investigations, imprisonment and even some torture. You know from the beginning that he was involved in some way in the explosion of the transport plane that killed the president of Pakistan Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq (an event that really happened and upon which this book is based). The last days of the president and his assassination make up the second storyline. Here you get a completely out of touch (both with his people and his administration) president succumbing to the paranoia of the world he has created, culminating inevitably in his death.

Though at times I found the book a bit slow and I was not so interested in the young cadet's storyline, overall I quite enjoyed the read. The president is surrounded by a great cast of characters (his jealous wife, his zealous paratrooper head of security, his scheming head of intel, etc.) and the mix of naive egotism and caprice that Hanif imagines going on in Zia's mind is quite humours, despite the dark reality behind it (that the author does a subtle job of maintaining). It also was educational and incited me to do a bit of history on this period. Pakistan played a crucial role in the support of the Mujahadin of Afghanistan in their fight against the Soviet Union and the U.S. had a big hand in supporting Zia's dictatorship. Some very interesting lessons for today's dynamic situation in North Africa, where the U.S. has to make some tough decisions about dictators they have been supporting.

A nice little find that I wouldn't foist it on anybody, but if you were interested in the period or found it at a beach house, you wouldn't be too bummed out.

1 comment:

Doc said...

Shout out to you:

And, yes, alcohol was involved.