Image courtesy - Random House
A Case of Exploding Mangoes tells the parallel stories of the circumstances leading up to Zia Ul-Haq’s dramatic end, and of Ali Shigri, a junior officer in the Pakistani Army, caught in a quagmire of conspiracy, revenge and loyalty. The story is set in 1988, with the backdrop of the Cold War, in which Pakistan played the role of the middleman between the U.S and the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan.
Mohammed Hanif had written a brilliant political commentary. It’s a no-holds-barred, blunt take on the people in power: the clueless President blinded by superstition and an overbearing sense of his own importance; the double-faced chief of intelligence who is simultaneously conspiring against, and sucking up to the boss; the corrupt Information Minister et al. It delves into the murky world of power-plays and one-upmanship in politics.
The yarn unwinds effortlessly and keeps you engaged. In fact, I had to put the book down every now and then just to let the newest twist in the plot percolate into my brain. The story sparkles with wit and caustic humour. However, for readers with more delicate sensibilities, some parts of the story can be too much to handle. I have read many vivid descriptions in my life: but passages about ripped-out ribs, steaming excreta, tunneling tapeworms and flying limbs left me squeamish. So a word of advice: keep a cheerful, no-brainer novel by your side at all times, for emergency purposes.
The dramatis personae of this tale are all portrayed as REAL people- not good or evil, but all shades of gray. Perhaps the only truly ‘white’ character in the story was Obaid (Baby O), who himself was in a sense a metaphor for the innocents inevitably caught in the crossfire. I did find myself rooting for the First Lady- cheering her on when she stood up to her shifty husband with dignity.
This is a book I would love to read again and again, because I know that with every read, I’ll discover something new. The story has many layers (Hanif has an almost pathological love for metaphors), an aspect that at times gives it a Murakami-like surreal feel. It makes you believe in the convergence of events, in the inevitability of fate. And, for some reason, it really puts you off mangoes.