Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Case of Exploding Mangoes

A Case of Exploding Mangoes, by Mohammed Hanif
$14.40 in the Hansisgreat Gift Shop
ISBN: 0307268071
This is an exciting war novel by a new writer.
Ali Shigri is a young officer in the Pakistan Air Force. At the beginning of the story, his best friend goes AWOL, stealing a plane. Ali is taken into custody as a suspected collaborator, although he insists he had nothing to do with his friend's disappearance and knows nothing about the stolen airplane.
Now, I know very little about Pakistan, and what I found most interesting about this book is that this guy could have been a soldier in any military, including the United States. He's a lovable young man who only seems to want to do right by his country and his loved ones.
Enter the army chief, General Zia-ul-Haq. He's the commander of Pakistan's armed forces, and the de-facto president for life by virtue of holding all the real power in the country. The actual prince is a jet-set, sex obsessed playboy who seems completely clueless.
General Zia is a fundamentalist Muslim; paranoid, hypocritical, and controls the kingdom with an iron fist. He has poor Ali locked in a pitch dark dungeon and tortured, hoping to extract information about 
an alleged plot to seize power.
Meanwhile, Zia has some skeletons in his own closet: most notably a photo in the Pakistan Times showing him ogling a pretty journalist's breasts. It seems he's not quite as pious as he's letting on.
The action all takes place as the USSR is invading Afghanistan and the United States occupies Pakistan. The entire region is a powder-keg as the world's two superpowers vie for control of the region, and the local leadership ranges from completely corrupt to utterly inept.
It's a great war story, for those who enjoy that sort of thing. Ali is a credit to the military, maintains his composure in spite of his desperate situation, and is just the sort of man you'd want fighting 
with you on the front lines. Additionally, there's an interesting view of Silk Road politics, the Pakistani justice system, and even a touching homosexual love story.
This is Hanif's first novel, and it received acclaim in Barnes & Noble's prestigious Discover Great New Writers program. Don't be intimidated from reading it if the culture of the region is unfamiliar to you: the story is quite absorbing and the characters easy to relate to. Funny at times, shocking, and provocative. This book is a reminder that people really are the same everywhere. First class work!

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