A Case of Exploding Mangoes: Book summary and reviews of A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif

A Case of Exploding Mangoes

By Mohammed Hanif

A Case of Exploding Mangoes
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  • Published in USA  May 2008,
    336 pages.

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Book Summary

A first novel of the first order—provocative, exuberant, wickedly clever—that reimagines the conspiracies and coincidences leading to the mysterious 1988 plane crash that killed Pakistan’s dictator General Zia ul-Haq.

At the center is Ali Shigri: Pakistan Air Force pilot and Silent Drill Commander of Fury Squadron. His father, one of Zia’s colonels, committed suicide under suspicious circumstances. Ali is determined to understand what or who pushed his father to such desperation—and to avenge his death.

What he quickly discovers is a snarl of events: Americans in Pakistan, Soviets in Afghanistan, dollars in every hand. But Ali remains patient, determined, a touch world-weary (“You want freedom and they give you chicken korma”), and unsurprised at finding Zia at every turn. He mounts an elaborate plot for revenge with an ever-changing crew (willing and not) that includes his silk-underwear-and- cologne-wearing roommate; a hash-smoking American lieutenant with questionable motives; the chief of Pakistan’s secret police, who mistakenly believes he’s in cahoots with the CIA; a blind woman imprisoned for fornication; Uncle Starchy, the squadron’s laundryman; and, not least of all, a mango-besotted crow. General Zia—devout Muslim and leering admirer of non-Muslim cleavage—begins every day by asking his chief of security: “Who’s trying to kill me?” and the answer lies in a conspiracy trying its damnedest to happen . . .

Intrigue and subterfuge combine with misstep and luck in this darkly comic book about love, betrayal, tyranny, family—and a world that unexpectedly resembles our own.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"A sure-footed, inventive debut that deftly undercuts its moral rage with comedy and deepens its comedy with moral rage . . . The novel has less in common with the sober literature of fact than it does with Latin American magical realism (especially novels about mythic dictators such as Gabriel García Márquez’s Autumn of the Patriarch) and absurdist military comedy (like Joseph Heller’s Catch-22). Hanif adopts a playful, exuberant voice, as competing theories and assassination plots are ingeniously combined and overlaid." – Kirkus Reviews.

"Publishers Weekly. Pakistan’s ongoing political turmoil adds a piquant edge to this fact-based farce . . . Hanif’s depiction of military foibles recalls the satirical wallop of Catch-22. [He brings] heft to this sagely absurd depiction of his homeland’s history of political conspiracies and corruption." - Publishers Weekly.

"Entertaining and illuminating . . . Hanif has crafted a clever black comedy about military culture, love, tyranny, family, and the events that eventually brought us to September 11, 2001." - Booklist.

"Witty, elegant, and deliciously anarchic. Hanif has a lovely eye and an even better ear." – John le Carré.

"Unputdownable and darkly hilarious . . . Mohammed Hanif is a brave, gifted writer. He has taken territory in desperate need of satire–General Zia, the military, Pakistan at the time of the Soviet-Afghan war–and made it undeniably his own." – Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

"The novel alternates chapters between Shigri's limited, first-person account of the two months and 17 days leading up to the death of General Zia, and a third-person re-creation of General Zia's last days, swept up in confrontations with his wife, his TV celebrity mistress, a spectacular parachuting disaster, and yes, the fateful peregrinations of a certain crow. Just like that crow, the unpredictable plot never flies where you think it's heading in this odd, frequently brilliant, satirical deconstruction of a dictator's last days." - Shelf Awareness.

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Reader Reviews

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Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by rabia
outspoken but without limitation
The book is written in very interesting, very bold manner that provides uncountable spots for laugh & smile...it is a beautiful mixture of fact (a little )& fiction ( in a large number ). It reveals the conspiracies of all over the not only of Pakistan but it seems that some time writer cross very limitation of decency or morality in order to avenge from Zia-ul-Haq or army.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Gail
Timely Political Satire
I really enjoyed this book. The dark humor is laugh-out-loud funny at times even though the story is about a political assination in Pakistan.
The book is a brilliant satire filled with irony.

With the world currently focused on Afghanistan and Pakistan and the political drama playing out in that area of the world, this presents a comic picture of how things might be accomplished in an authoritarian dictatorship.

Interestingly, the most sympathetic character in the book is the assassinated dictator who is at the center of several assassination plots that come together in the final act.

This is an interesting read that will appeal to anyone interested in both political topics and literary satire.

Rated 2 of 5 of 5 by Cindy
Worked great as a sleeping aid....
I just could not get into this book. Every time I picked it up to read I found myself asleep after 5 or so pages. I found it confusing in some parts and dry in others. I'm sure some will like it, but it is obviously not my type of book.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Muneeb
Highly recommended creative historical fiction
I think this novel is a brilliant addition to the era following Suleri's "Meatless Days," and Rushdie's novels.

While Hanif writes about loyalty to family, country, and friendship, he also writes about military life in post-colonial Pakistan, decades-long conspiracies, and the politics of Third World and First World interactions.

This is historical fiction, with both comedic (stereotypes, dark humor) and serious (nations and outlaws with weapons) events. It's a reminder of how the past speaks to the present, including both the familiar and the frightening characters from international history.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Stephanie
Unique
Mysterious, horrifying, and even funny at times. Describes the revenge plot of a young man for his father's death. Interesting depictions of life in the Middle East. The arbitrary and inhumane punishments and unstable government make me glad to live in America. Recommend for anyone interested in other cultures.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Maggie
Might as well laugh . . .
The worse the world news becomes, the more I seem to be drawn to paying attention - like driving by a wreck on the freeway. As an antidote to that helpless feeling, I've also always been drawn to the fictional therapy of books such as Catch 22 and anything by Vonnegut. Here's another one. A Case of Exploding Mangoes takes the reader to that part of the world we just can't keep from watching with shivers of dread and fascination, and allows humor to provide the glimmer of a hope that maybe its all just an absurd joke.

...12 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Mohammed Hanif Author Biography

Mohammed Hanif was born in Okara, Pakistan. After leaving the Pakistan Air Force Academy to pursue a career in journalism, he worked for Newsline, India Today, and The Washington Post. He has written plays for the stage and screen, including a critically acclaimed BBC drama and the feature film The Long Night (2002), Pakistan's first digital feature film. Hanif is a graduate of the University of East Anglia's creative writing programme.  His first novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, was published in 2008.  It was longlisted for the 2008 Booker Prize, and shortlisted for the 2008 Guardian First Book Award and the 2009 Commonwealth Writers' Prize in the Best First Book category. He is currently head of the BBC's Urdu Service and lives in London.

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