A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif
in the pub '08; Orbis Terrarum challenge:Pakistan; randomhouse review book
In 1988, a plane carrying the President of Pakistan crashed, killing the President - military dictator General Zia, some generals, and the American Ambassador, Arnold Raphel. This book looks at what may have caused the crash and the death of the General Zia.
I had to look up at wikipedia to see how much was true. And when I saw this picture of General Zia-ul-Haq, I can see where this story came from, because doesn't this face belongs in an amusing story? The crash of the plane was never explained, so Hanif writes this amusing look at army double-crossing and plots from an assortment of people with motive to assassinate the leader. I imagine leading a military coup and killing your predecessor is somewhat like marrying the man who cheated on his wife with you: eventually it will happen the other way. Cheaters cheat again, and someone will try to assassinate you.
There are many plot threads and characters and as usual I found it somewhat difficult to follow all that wasn't explicitly stated. Espionage stories can be tricky for me - I am that person in the theatre asking 'Who was that? Was that the husband? What just happened?' It doesn't lessen my enjoyment though. I just have a hard time keeping track of characters.
The setting of 1988 means the Afghan-Soviet war is still going on. The roles of the Pakistanis and Americans and the CIA are noted here, and OBL makes a cameo appearance at a party. Nice touch and a part of the absurdity present in the book.
This was a good book to use for the Orbis Terrarum because I feel I have a greater understanding of Pakistan. It was amusing, but when a book is described as 'very funny' it sets up a lot of expectations for the reader. It takes a while for the author to set up all the possible causes of the death, but by the end, it all comes together nicely. The book is mostly narrated by a young soldier, junior officer Shigri, intent on revenge for the death of his father.
(I'm not very good at summaries; my reviews are more impressions. Here's a summary if you like that sort of thing)