A case of exploding mangoes
I’ve spent the past 3 weeks mainly not reading and it’s almost like this little book got in the way 😀 Thing is, it’s a witty, action packed book which, under other circumstances, I would have finished in a couple of days and then went on to enthusiastically recommend. The latter part still applies, but I just couldn’t get myself to sit down and finish it. Until today.
Mohammed Hanif’s Case of exploding mangoes was longlisted for the Booker in 2008 (together with, among others, Salman Rushdie’s Enchantress of Florence – but Mr. Hanif makes a much more deserving nominee) – when the winner was Aravind Adiga’s White Tiger. And it seems to me that those books have in common not only the geographical setting (Pakistan vs. India) but also their light, darkly sarcastic yet pointed approach to issues like dictatorship, religious fundamentalism or the stark contrast in living conditions that globalization has brought along with it.
Mr. Hanif tells the tale of the last two months of the Pakistani dictator gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq who died in a plane crash that brought down several of the top brass and the US Ambassador. In fact, he starts off with the immediate aftermath of the crash and goes backwards from there, through shifting points of view in every chapter: the first-person narration of junior under officer Ali Shigri and the third person chapters dedicated to gen. Akhtar, maj. Kiyani – his devoted underling, the US ambassador and even gen. Zia and the First Lady. And, when you piece this puzzle together, it ends up being the matryoshka doll of conspiracy theories: everyone wanted Zia dead, including his own ailing body.
The book is sprinkled with ridiculous moments: gen. Zia’s endless insecurities, self doubts and superstitions, his admiration for Ceauşescu and his wife, his conversation with a retired Quadi on rape and a woman’s duty to prove it, the First Lady’s jealousy over a foreign reporter, Shigri’s conversations with his communist cellmate – to name only a few. But it’s exactly these failings that humanize, making the characters fully fleshed-out and not merely cardboard cutouts here only to move the story along. Because, while A case of exploding mangoes is primarily driven by the tangled narrative thread, it’s the monologues, the random thoughts, the overheard conversations and the incessant scheming that make it such a fun read.