Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Case of Exploding Mangoes

The departure of one Pakistani dictator seemed as good a time as any to read a novel about the end of another. Mohammed Hanif's A Case of Exploding Mangoes is a rollicking good read, a blackly comic political thriller about the plot to assassinate General Zia. Or rather the multiple, intersecting, but essentially quite distinct plots. Even though I was only 10 when Zia died, I remember him as a BAD MAN who was often in the news. It wasn't just that he was the dictator of a country on the wrong side of our border, it was his slicked back hair with its sinister centre parting, his droopy snake-like eyes, the thin wiry mustache and the gleaming white teeth, all of which morphed into something half feline and half reptilean. He would have made an ideal Hindi movie villain with no make up at all. In the novel, Zia isn't the cruel sadistic character of my childhood imagination, but a fanatical, deranged and slightly ridiculous man. There are some unforgettable scenes that capture some of the high farce of the Cold War - fundraising balls in Texas for the Afghan jihad; Osama bin Laden attending a fancy dress party at the US Ambassador's residence in Islamabad dressed in a suit; Zia bending over for a rectal examination from the Saudi royal physician, his face on his desk between the flags of Pakistan and the Pakistani army (Pakistan getting fucked by Saudi money?). And throughout, the narrative superbly conjures up that mixture of intrigue, sycophancy and instability that has been the stuff of Pakistani politics for too long. Move over Shame, this is the new best novel about Pakistan.

Rahuuuul, (this is my identifier)

Must-read by Muhammad Hanif, especially his musings on Zardari's "intelligence"
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