30 July 2009

Book Review: A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif

Now this is one book that I just sped through and enjoyed very much.

This is a satirical novel based on the life of Pakistani Army General Zia ul-Haq, and his untimely death in August 17, 1988. Fact and fiction blend together in this novel, and the way it was written just captivated me that I was able to finish this book in just four days.

Anyway, so the book seesaws between two protagonists: the General Zia ul-Haq, and Under Officer Ali Shigri. General Zia is a real historical character, while the officer is fiction, for all intents and purposes. Shigri tries to hatch a plan to assassinate General Zia, because he is convinced that the general had something to do with the apparent suicide of his father, Colonel Shigri.

In the meantime, General Zia's eccentricities are also narrated, and how his other generals are trying to make a scheme of overthrowing him from power. Real characters were used, and given the amount of conspiracy theories that surround the death of General Zia, this might be one of them.

Anyway, why do I like this book? Well, it is elegantly crafted satire. It pokes fun at certain historical personalities, but not in a crude way. It was never presented as a parody, but more as a suspense novel, and I kept bracing for what is going to happen next regardless of who the current focus was in. Even in rather action-less scenes, such as the imprisonment scene in the Lahore Fort, where there was a lot of talk between Ali Shigri and the other prisoners, the dialogue was still intense, and the book made me think while being entertained.

What else? I never knew of the historical character of General Zia ul-Haq before, given how much I know of Pakistani history, which is close to nil. This book served plenty of purposes, not just for entertainment. It also provides one possible explanation to the conspiracy, and it also stabs Pakistani government activities by exposing its corrupt past in the guise of political fiction. I definitely recommend this to people wanting to know more about military society in Pakistan.

See my other book reviews here.

(Jefferson's Dome, from my DC Memorials Series)


  1. Hey, it seems you're marathon reading novels these days ha? How do you choose the books you read ba? For instance, this particular book? Was it bought/borrowed? Recommended and lent by someone? Or given as a gift?

  2. Abaniko,

    Marathon reading? Not really. I supposed I mentioned this before, but reading fiction is just my way of winding down after a very busy day. It lets me escape to some alternate universe temporarily. Anyway, I read fast, so if I like the book, it would seem like it was quick.

    So, how do I choose books? I have a very peculiar way of choosing books. I usually borrow books in the library, and since the library has this shelf where new books are displayed, I usually select from there. So I end up reading contemporary literature that was published within the past 5 years. I don't usually buy books, since for the most part, I would only read them once. I only buy books once in a while, when I need something in Amazon, and my purchase is less than 25 (for it to be delivered for free), so I would add a book that I would really like to read. I read these books when I travel, so when I am done, I can just leave it where I was and not worry about returning it to a library.

    Nobody gives me fiction as a gift, so that's a dead end, and when I am in the library, I choose rather clean books, you know, yung mukhang wala pang nakakabasa. I smell them, and if they smell like the printing press then I would check them out.