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38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A 'Midnight's Children' for postmodern times? Not quite...
I don't know whether it's because of Empire, but the Indian subcontinent shares a great deal with the British sense of humour, switching without warning from irony to farce to pathos to outright tragedy.

A Case of Exploding Mangoes sounds like it belongs to the tradition of 'Carry on Up the Khyber', and in some ways it does (it enjoys being both silly and...
Published on 4 Jan 2009 by Simon Hall

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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Case of Damp Squibs
I'm not the greatest fan of contemporary fiction, but I easily persuaded myself to borrow Mohammed Hanif's "A Case of Exploding Mangoes" from my local library. I had previous knowledge and interest in Pakistan, the regime of General Zia, and the period in which it was set during the Jihad against the Russians in Afghanistan, as well as a taste for sharp satire, which is...
Published on 22 Mar 2010 by S Wood


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38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A 'Midnight's Children' for postmodern times? Not quite..., 4 Jan 2009
By 
Simon Hall (Leeds, UK) - See all my reviews
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I don't know whether it's because of Empire, but the Indian subcontinent shares a great deal with the British sense of humour, switching without warning from irony to farce to pathos to outright tragedy.

A Case of Exploding Mangoes sounds like it belongs to the tradition of 'Carry on Up the Khyber', and in some ways it does (it enjoys being both silly and naughty), but the story it tells (of the mysterious assassination of Pakistani President Zia, and the mystery that no-one really seemed that interested in finding out who did it) is deadly serious.

As someone who lived in Pakistan during Zia's 'reign', I don't fully recognise the level of opression and paranoia presented in the book, but I have no doubt that the author (like the book's main protagonist, an army officer recruit in those days) saw things from a very different perspective.

It is hard to tell a story when one knows the ending already, but this book does it very, very well. The book even has time to take a crafty side-swipe at US foreign policy in the region: a character called 'OBL' appears at a party organised by the American ambassador to Pakistan and is clearly both an embarrassment and a vital part of America's 'secret' war with Russia in Afghanistan. That he may have become very, very rich through his partnership with the CIA is something best not thought about...

But at the heart of the story is this remarkable relationship between two men (well, boys, really), which grounds all the joking at Zia's expense in something so disarmingly touching that one cannot help but be emotionally invested in the unknown outcomes for these characters.

I would love to have dinner with Mohammed Hanif: I can't imagine that he is anything but as urbane, intelligent, sassy and just plain funny as this book is. So does it describe the state of a nation the way Midnight's Children and Shame do? No. It's having too much fun for that...
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71 of 74 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful..., 2 July 2008
By 
J. Joyce (Dorset, England) - See all my reviews
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I had hoped to laugh heartily when reading this. Instead I read a book that was filled with subtle humour that when combined with everything in the book raised a smile. Yet this is not to detriment of the author. Instead it raises him from a mere comic author to a skilled writer which this century seems to be lacking.
Yet alongside is a story that is filled with sorrow. A slow developing relationship between two soldiers or as Hanif writes 'two scared boys' leaves you wondering whether Ali (the main protagonist) loves the other as a friend, a brother or a lover, and you never find out. It is this that provides the pathos to the novels quirkiness. The end made me, I'm not ashamed to say, weep and I still wish for that happy ending that never comes.
This was, however, everything it claimed to be. Much more than comedy, it was a damning portrayal of the leadership of Pakistan and the readiness of America to ally herself with anyone stemming the tide of the Red Menace, and a tragic story of an odd and enigmatic love.
It also tells the story of Pakistan, a country we forget about as we are tied up in Afghanistan and Iraq. It reminds us of the sad fates people that the media does not give attention to. In the wake of the treacherous killing of Bhutto it reminds of dictators that have yet to be toppled, especially as the General involved here is the very one that hanged Ali Bhutto and robbed the Pakistanis of a liberal democracy.
The cohesion of the plot appears to be flawed at first with chapters flitting between various characters suddenly and time moving between past and present without much warning. Yet kudos to Hanif who ties it up well and keeps the reader guessing until the very end.
A must-read but perhaps not the light-hearted summer read it appears to be. Nor does it have a happily ever after. Read this book with your mind and heart open, and be prepared- you may never trust a crow ever again.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A (Funny) Case of Conspiracies, 13 Oct 2008
By 
A. Ross (Washington, DC) - See all my reviews
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Twenty years ago, a Pakistani military plane crashed under very shady circumstances, killing everyone on board, including the Generalissimo who had been running the county ever since the coup that deposed Zulfikar Bhutto. For most Westerners, this is one of those distant footnotes to history, barely remembered, if at all. However, one of the other passengers on that plane was a friend of my parents, making the episode one of those mysteries that's always stuck with me through the years. It's also one of those events that's acquired a rather robust mythology and body of conspiracy theories around it -- making it great fodder for a first novel.

The story starts several weeks before the crash, and introduces us to the soon-to-be-dead General Zia and his close associates, as well as to a pair of Pakistani Air Force cadets (one of whom is the main narrator), the U.S. Ambassador, a CIA agent, and a whole host of lesser characters (including, in a very brief but historically plausible cameo, Osama Bin Laden). Despite the relatively large cast of characters, almost all spring to life with remarkable vitality. From the barracks laundryman "Uncle Starchy," to an imprisoned enemy of the state (the head of the All Pakistan Street Cleaners Union), to General Zia's paratrooper bodyguard, and many others. This is no small achievement, and a vitally important one for a plot that brings together so many disparate motives and agendas.

Indeed, the plot is too complicated to fully describe, but basically General Zia has grown increasingly paranoid, and rightfully so, as a number of different people want him dead. To mention who or how or why would be to spoil the fun, suffice to say that the story focuses on two particularly devious plots, while other possibilities materialize out of carefully calibrated subplots. So, in a sense, this is a thriller -- even though the results are already known. However, it's also a black comedy in which the author has drawn deeply on his own experience as a Pakistani Air Force cadet in order to create a rich satire of the Pakistani military. Furthermore, the author's years as a journalist makes him particularly well-suited to aim his satire at the men of state, their machinations, and those good old days when the U.S. was funding the Afghan resistance to the Soviets. While a lot of this history is so tragic and inept you have to laugh, Hanif has the writing skills to create some moments of real comedy and fine wordplay as well.

The last several years has seen a resurgence of interest in this era, in books such as Steve Coll's excellent Ghost Wars or George Crile's Charley Wilson's War. Coll also wrote a much earlier book called On the Grand Trunk Road, based on his years as the South Asia correspondent for the Washington Post, which has a 25 page chapter devoted to his investigation of the crash. It's nice to be able to get some perspective from the Pakistani side, albeit in fictional form.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Utterly brilliant, 3 Oct 2011
By 
Josie (Nottingham GB) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Case of Exploding Mangoes (Paperback)
Perfection. A hero to die for, a structure that grips you in a whirlwind of surprises and shocks, a laugh on every page... I went straight back to the beginning and read it all over again.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Case of Damp Squibs, 22 Mar 2010
By 
This review is from: A Case of Exploding Mangoes (Paperback)
I'm not the greatest fan of contemporary fiction, but I easily persuaded myself to borrow Mohammed Hanif's "A Case of Exploding Mangoes" from my local library. I had previous knowledge and interest in Pakistan, the regime of General Zia, and the period in which it was set during the Jihad against the Russians in Afghanistan, as well as a taste for sharp satire, which is what a quick reading of the inside fly-leaf lead me to expect.

There are certainly moments when Hanif's crisp prose and dry humour comes up with the goods, for example the occasional surreal lists that appear in the text can raise a wry smile. On the other hand, the book's intricate plot is too clever by half and verges on the ridiculous, propelled along it's convoluted path under the pernicious influence of what might be termed "Magical Realism", which for me has always been a bit short on magic, and devoid of much that can be meaningfully described as realism. There is little sense of time and place. The characters, historical and fictional, exist in two dimensions, unaccompanied by anything that might be described as insight. The cameo appearance of Osama Bin Laden at the American Ambassadors barbecue verges on the juvenile. It was not an enjoyable experience to read.

Its only when one thinks of how Joseph Roth in The Radetzky March, or Victor Serge in The Case of Comrade Tulayev approach the historical novel, that the frivolous and trivial nature of Hanif's work becomes painfully clear. If you want to find out anything about Pakistan's recent history, one had be better advised turning to Tariq Ali and his The Clash of Fundamentalisms or The Duel both of which contain more insight in a single paragraph than one will find in the whole of this book. And more laughs.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but not great, 28 Oct 2008
By 
A. Amin "abu_amin" (London) - See all my reviews
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This book is wittily written and a fairly easy read. Every so often, the reader comes across a clever nugget that makes you chuckle or mentally note to quote later.

Whilst the book gets off to a promising start, it seems to lose momentum halfway through. The pace does pick up again in the final few chapters but on the whole, the sub-plots are a bit loose and some of the characters are fairly one-dimensional.

Entertaining, enjoyable and easy read - great if approached without any major expectations.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous, 10 Mar 2012
This review is from: A Case of Exploding Mangoes (Paperback)
The book has been feted -- Longlisted for the Booker, the Commonwealth prize etc. But I still feel that it is the most underrated book of the decade. And I am surprised it is not a film yet.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Energetic writing......, 17 Feb 2012
By 
Wynne Kelly "Kellydoll" (Coventry, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Case of Exploding Mangoes (Paperback)
This is a satirical fiction based on the true story of the death of General Zia-ul-Haq who died in mysterious circumstances after ruling Pakistan for eleven years.

It is narrated by Ali Shigri, a young air force officer, whose father appears to have committed suicide but Shigri is convinced that the death was orchestrated by Zia. He plans to assassinate Zia by poisoning him. His friend Obaid is also keen to see the end of Zia and suggests flying a plane into a spot where Zia is present. But others are also hoping to see the end of their hated ruler.

Much of the writing is very funny but there is also much pathos. There is a hilarious discussion between Zia and his chief Imam regarding the stoning of a woman for fornication. A blind woman was raped but as she is unable to identify her attackers it must be considered fornication not rape. Shigri is imprisoned for investigation following the disappearance of his friend and in prison meets a forgotten Maoist imprisoned for organising a trade union for sweepers. Shigri tries to effect his release but with unexpected results.

Hanif could be challenged for taking on easy targets:

-the hubris of Zia
-the ludicrous religious arguments for death by stoning
-the ambition and vanity of army officers
-the corruption involved in purchasing weapons from USA

He writes with great energy and most of the writing is excellent. I will be interested in what he produces next.

I doubt very much that this book went down well in Pakistan!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable and accessible (after a brief look at wikipedia), 1 Dec 2009
By 
This review is from: A Case of Exploding Mangoes (Paperback)
I knew little of this 20 year old mystery but was intrigued by its glowing reviews and great title! A sharp thriller with the black comedy of Catch 22, it proved a treat of lively characters, dark moments and irreverent swipes. The tale of the crow, emerging toward the end of the novel, was just irresistible- a master storyteller's touch. Undoubtedly my unfamiliarity with the events prevented full appreciation of the satire, so the four star rating is for similar readers, not the author!
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too clever?, 18 Aug 2008
By 
G. L. Haggett "glynlhaggett" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This story of the need for personal vengeance set against the context of geopolitical tension, US hegemony and religious sectarianism is the work of an author of great virtuosity and imagination.

However, for all the authorial flair, I fear the book's fragmentary format, its self-conscious "cleverness" and the lack of cohesion which the reviewer above has mentioned will together and individually ensure that this is a book more appreciated by the literary cognoscenti than enjoyed by the average reader.

That would be a shame, since it allies vivid characterisation and outrageous humour with passages of profound sensitivity.
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A Case of Exploding Mangoes
A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif (Paperback - 4 Jun 2009)
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