In 1988, General Zia-ul-Haq, the sixth President of Pakistan boarded a plane from Bahawalpur with 30 other people. A few minutes after takeoff, the plane began to pitch in an up and down motion before crashing and killing everyone on board. The crash remains one of Pakistan’s most enduring mysteries, with theories ranging from a Soviet assassination to a play for power from within the government.
A Case of Exploding Mangoes is set in the few months before the crash and adds to the mix of conspiracy theories with comical aplomb, mainly through the voice and story of Ali Shigri, a junior officer in the Pakistani Air Force whose father was killed on the orders of the President. The other main character in the novel is the General Zia himself who is convinced that Allah is sending him a warning about a plot to harm him. As he gets closer to the inevitable plane crash, the President dissolves into a puddle of paranoia and increasingly desperate piety.
Mohammed Hanif, who served in the Pakistani Air Force before becoming a journalist, pulls no punches in satirising the military, the government, and to most hilarious effect, the doomed President himself. Along the way, he assembles a fascinating cast of characters, from Zia’s daunting wife to the menacing General Akhtar, chief of Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Deeply hilarious and intuitively clever, this unique novel also captures the particular essence of injustice that is familiar to anyone who has lived under a dictatorial government.
The book was met with international acclaim on publication. It won the Best First Book Award in the 2009 Commonwealth Book Prize as well as the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize in 2008. It was also longlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize.
Published in 2008.