Mohammed Hanif’s exuberant first novel, “A Case of Exploding Mangoes,” extends this tradition of assassination fiction and shifts it east to. A Case of Exploding Mangoes has ratings and reviews. Tea said: Fantastic novel for those who like to read Vikas Swarup, or Mohsin Hamid, or Ara. . A Washington Post, Rocky Mountain News, Boston Globe Best Book of the Year Intrigue and subterfuge combine with bad luck and good in this darkly comic.

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Dictators have long exercised the literary imagination. Shame, Salman Rushdie’s novel of a land that “is and is not Pakistan”, gave us the buccaneering Raza Hyder, a thinly veiled depiction of General Zia-ul-Haq.

Despite a shaky explodjng, with overkill on the familiar imaginative topography of Pakistan – deserts, generals, spies, explosions and cover-ups – Hanif’s narrative deftly explores the various possibilities suggested by Zia’s death in a mysterious plane crash.

A Case of Exploding Mangoes

Along the way, there’s plenty of humour and slapstick. The obligatory but satisfying satirical inversions are typified by the dictator’s head resting on a Pakistani flag while his buttocks are pointed at a Saudi doctor’s probing fingers. Zia’s frenzied readings of the Koran cause consternation among his subordinates, while there are multiple possibilities for attempts on his life.

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One is a curse pronounced by Zainab, a blind rape victim sentenced to death by stoning under new ordinances “mixing religion with the business of running a country” is Zia’s innovation. As various plots hatch, the crow carrying Zainab’s curse flies inexorably towards its quarry.

As a thriller, the novel has plenty of reassuringly familiar characters, such as the intelligence agent who “runs the world with a packet of Dunhills, a gold lighter and an unregistered car”. Military aircraft stunts provide gizmo glamour Hanif is a trained airforce pilot. In this account of his botched missions, Junior Officer Ali Shigri, would-be assassin, is a convincingly klutzy semi-hero.

Cadet life is entertainingly evoked, overflowing with japes, jerk-offs, hashish highs and liquored lows. It is as a serious novel of Pakistan’s difficult recent history that Mangoes doesn’t take wing, despite its ambitions.

Like the Islamabad it depicts as “a whirl of conspiracies and dinner parties”, it opts for the thrilling veneer over complex layers. Though its historical context is that pivotal moment when Reagan’s US brought together religion and arms to fight its Soviet foe in Afghanistan, it offers few insights into what that disastrous intervention – which included the creation of the Taliban – has meant for Pakistan and its people. It treats its American characters with gentle, even warm-hearted, irony.

In the end, what we get is a story about a few bad men rather than a far-reaching and complicated political alliance whose global legacy shapes our lives. Perhaps “dictator novels” inevitably collude with us in evading reflections on human complicity. In Rushdie’s words, “if it is just a question of King Kong and Godzilla wreaking havoc until the aeroplanes bring them down – then the rest of us are excused”.


Fed on a steady diet of cultural oppositions, we’ve become less resistant to syndicated morality tales than we might be.

A Case of Exploding Mangoes – Wikipedia

Perhaps we want some places to function as ciphers – blighted landscapes of fundamentalism, despotism, un-freedom, mirrors to our satisfied sense of self. The most unexpected aspect of Mangoes is also its most compelling – the wryly told story of a love affair between two cadets. The incisive work that remains unwritten inside Hanif’s promising novel can only emerge when we become more demanding readers of other places.

In this case that would be a Pakistan not reducible explodiny generals, jets and jihadis. Topics Guardian first book esploding Fiction Guardian first book award Mohammed Hanif reviews.