This summer Radhika Timbadia re-read Mohammed Hanif’s A Case of Exploding Mangoes, and she thinks we should all pick it up. Read her review and buy the book on our online bookstore.
I read A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif in the summer of 2014 because it had mangoes in its title and I had mangoes on my mind. I picked it up again in the summer of 2020, again with mangoes on my mind but also for a less innocent reason. I was wondering how such a book would be received if written today.
And right I was in wondering that.
This book was translated into Urdu in Pakistan only last year, nearly 11 years after its original publication in 2008. And earlier this year, Mohammad Hanif said on social media that all Urdu copies of the book were seized by a group of men claiming to be the Inter-services Intelligence. The books were confiscated, the publisher’s manager threatened and Hanif received a defamation notice.
Mohammed Hanif weaves fact and fiction around the death of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, the sixth president of Pakistan, who died in a mysterious plane crash in 1988. The book is filled with improbable sub-plots about events that lead to the crash. The plot involves a metaphorical whale, a real crow, crates of mangoes, tapeworms, a blind woman’s curse, Uncle Starchy’s herbs and some VX gas.The book also suggests a delicious homosexual, flirty relationship between the protagonist Ali Shigri and Obaid (also known as Baby O), roommates and cadets at the Pakistani Air Force Academy, adding more depth and fun with references to ‘heart-printed silk underwear’.
The book is sharp, bold, a funny satire and political comedy set in Pakistan, full of dark humour and despotic army rulers. Humour is used in a powerful way to take away power from otherwise historically oppressive and violent people. In the times we live in in South Asia and around the world, political satire goes a long way to show us the darker sides of things, whether in fiction, stand-up comedy or in social media memes.
And the fact that Hanif’s widely celebrated book came under scrutiny now showed me the power of this delightful, humorous and frightening book.
Mohammed Hanif is a Pakistani journalist and writer who has written three books of fiction: A Case of Exploding Mangoes (2008), Our Lady of Alice Bhatti (2011), and Red Birds (2018). ‘Mangoes’ was his very first book, which was long-listed for the Booker Prize, shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, and won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Novel.
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Radhika Timbadia is the proprietrix of Champaca. She spends much of her time figuring out how to run an independent bookstore, while also reading and spending time with her dog, cat and plants.