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24 Apr 2010

A Case Of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif

I bought this book out of curiosity one day. After a series of Indian authors that bored me, I decided to find out what Pakistani writing was like. Why do good writers only have to be from English-speaking countries?

Apparently a comic novel, I found in it a little too much rambling. It took me a long while and numerous breaks to read it. The breaks were mostly because it was read in buses, autos and on the toilet seat. However, it did not excite me enough to sit with it continuously and read to the end. The reviews at the back of the book that exclaim 'Unputdownable' and 'Gripping', didn't really apply to me.

The core of the story is the death General Muhammad Zia-Ul-Haq, the Chief Of Army and President of Pakistan. It is supposed to be based on a real life plane crash involving the General and the various conspiracy theories surrounding his death. 

This book is in the form of a narration by Under Office Ali Shigri with the Pakistan Air Force, who seeks revenge for the death of his father Chief Shigri, written off as having hung himself. He talks about his friend Obaid (nicknamed Baby O) and their life in the army, in phases, as it goes back and forth between his current predicament and flashbacks into his past. Parallely, he relates the life of General Zia, his fears, various associations and events that eventually lead to the death of the General.

Even as one reaches the end of the story, there is uncertainty as to what caused his death. Was it Shigri's sword that introduced a deadly poison in his blood? Was it General Akhtar's treason and an accidental release of VX in the presidential aircraft via the air-conditioning? Was there something more than just mangoes in the 'gift' sent by the All Pakistan Mango Farmers' Association? Did General Beg have something to do with the death? Like the various conspiracy theories that exist in reality, Hanif leaves open ends surrounding the General's death, except for confirming that he most certainly died in that plane crash, along with some others.

It was not one of my best reads. It is not bad but I would not recommend it as a good read either. Definitely not something that would stay in my bookshelf. 

Aside: The picture in this blog is not what my book looked like. It is a white cover with a plane in B&W, the tail splashed with red indicating the crash. Strangely, I found more than a couple of cover pictures for this book but no sign of the one that I had. 

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