A Case of Exploding Mangoes: Delicious in every sense

Mohammad Hanif's comic historical fictional, based around the events of General Zia Ul Huq's death in a plane crash, is easily one of the finest books I've read coming out of the subcontinent in a very long time. Dark, funny, acerbic and yet thoroughly engrossing and entertaining, it reminded me of enjoying 'English, August' a long long time ago. The same bite, the same juice, just a completely different fruit. Part Rushdie, part Vonnegut and part Heller, 'A Case of Exploding Mangoes' manages to stand on its own as brilliant writing.

Ali Shigri, the narrator, is a young officer in the Air Force leading a silent drill squad, who wants to seek revenge for what he believes is the murder of his father orchestrated by the political machine a the top of the food chain in Pakistan. The rest of the story is about his travails as he seeks vengeance against the most powerful and protected man in the country.

What makes this book exceptional is of course the amazing characters it manages to create and their lively, entertaining stories Hanif manages to tell. From Ali Shigri to General Zia and everyone in between, Hanif creates a world in the mid eighties that you can relate to specially if you grew up during those times hearing of Pakistan and the Afghan War and General Zia daily on the TV or the radio or in the newspapers and magazines. The end of the Afghan war, the role of America and Pakistan in that war, the rise and fall of General Zia, the corruption and the mystery and of course the taste and desire for mangoes -- the only love that Pakistan and India seem to have left in common.

Hanif brings ready wit and comic genius to what is essentially a sad chapter in the history of the subcontinent. This book is a must for anyone interested in reliving that period but also anyone who enjoys a really good creative retelling of that story.

Hanif was one of the three authors that Salman Rushdie recommended the year before last when I had the pleasure of meeting him. The others are nowhere close to Hanif but more on that later.