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Review: Hanif's 'Exploding Mangoes' a juicy blend of history, satire

Politics are so outrageous that it takes a satirist to illuminate the accidental events, military foul-ups, venality and sheer stupidity that drive so much of world history.

Centering his first novel on the death of Pakistan's dictator Gen. Zia ul-Haq and underlings in a 1988 plane crash, Mohammed Hanif casts light on the troubles in Pakistan today.

A graduate of the Pakistan Air Force Academy, Hanif left the service to become a journalist and, it turns out, a witty and energetic comic novelist.

He starts with a bang, as Gen. Zia and others, including an American diplomat, board the doomed plane. Having brought about the Soviet retreat in Afghanistan, they are on a roll, but video shot that day hints at things to come.

As described by Cadet Ali Shigri, who has a story to tell, "They are preparing for peace and, being the cautious men they are, they have come to Bahawalpur to shop for tanks while waiting for the end of the Cold War. . . . It's only later that people will say, Look at that clip. Look at their tired, reluctant walk. Anybody can tell that they were being shepherded to that plane by the invisible hand of death."

Ali has reason to hate Zia; his righteous military father died suddenly, an unlikely suicide. Ali blames the tubby, flatulent ruler and devises a plan thwarted when his cadet roommate and sometime lover decamps with a military plane.

Before he's done, Ali has seen the inside of a historic Moghul fort turned into a grim military prison — and he has seen the insides of Gen. Zia.

Back at the academy, Ali and his buddy get high with the on-site American. "Although Bannon is merely a drill instructor from Fort Bragg — only a lowly lieutenant — in the Academy's food chain he is somewhere between a shark and a spotted leopard." Add Ali's Silent Drill Team, Uncle Starchy, who knows ways of killing a man that leave no trace . . . There's too much to summarize here; the book is funny and horrific and true.

Kit Reed's next book is "Enclave."

A Case of Exploding Mangoes

By Mohammed Hanif

Knopf, 323 pages, $24

Review: Hanif's 'Exploding Mangoes' a juicy blend of history, satire 06/28/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 1, 2010 1:16pm]
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