Longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2008. Mohammed Hanif’s dark political satire about love, betrayal, tyranny, family - and a lethal conspiracy trying its damnedest to happen.
Ali Shigri is on a mission to avenge his father’s suspicious death, which the government is calling a suicide. Ali’s target is none other than General Zia ul-Haq, dictator of Pakistan. Enlisting a rag-tag group of conspirators, including his cologne-soaked roommate, a hash-smoking American and a mango-besotted crow, Ali sets his elaborate plan in motion. There’s only one problem: the line of would-be Zia assassins is longer than he could have possibly known.
About the AuthorMohammed Hanif is a Booker Prize rarity: he graduated as a pilot officer from the Pakistan Airforce Academy before abandoning a life in the skies for one in journalism and fiction.
‘Writing is a very lonely process, when you’re writing you don’t really know. You don’t decide okay I’m going to sit down and write a dark comic novel. You’re basically just trying to tell a story. It was only after the book had been published and people started talking about it and started asking me questions. That’s when I realised where my motivations or where my influences might have come from. One of the basic influences was in Pakistan through dictatorships, the way people have survived is by making fun of the authorities. It happens on the street all the time. Since I’ve grown up on these streets, street language has probably been my greatest literacy influence. Obviously growing up I read a lot of Urdu literature and a lot of world fiction, and I’m sure that has somehow influenced me as well. But I would say the basic kind of attitude that my book has is the kind of attitude that the man on the streets of Pakistan has.’
Watch the interview here
‘The funny thing is, after the book came out, a lot of people – and some of them were heads of intelligence agencies – I’ve run into them at a party or at a social gathering, and they take me into a corner and say, ‘Son, you’ve written a brilliant novel. Now tell me, who’s your source?’ I used to find it a bit scary at the beginning that, my God, these people are running my country and they actually believe all the lies that I’ve written.’
Listen to the interview here
‘A sure-footed, inventive debut that deftly undercuts its moral rage with comedy and deepens its comedy with moral rage… The novel has less in common with the sober literature of fact than it does with Latin American magical realism (especially novels about mythic dictators such as Gabriel García Márquez’s Autumn of the Patriarch) and absurdist military comedy (like Joseph Heller’s Catch-22). Hanif adopts a playful, exuberant voice, as competing theories and assassination plots are ingeniously combined and overlaid.’
Damian Da Costa, New York Observer
‘There are many reasons to read this excellent novel, and one for which it should be celebrated: Hanif has found in Zia a veritable Homer Simpson of theocratic zealotry… The inevitable comparison here is to Dr. Strangelove, and just as the Kubrick film crystallized the absurdities of nuclear escalation into an archetypal cast of idiots-who-run-the-world, Mangoes provides the necessary update.’
Irfan Husain, Qantara.de
‘Mangoes lambasts military institutions often sacrosanct in Pakistan, and tells a fascinating story in fine, rollicking style. Although often hilarious, the book has a serious purpose: Hanif exposes generals for the power-hungry monsters they become after enthroning themselves.’
Hermione Eyre, The Guardian
‘In 1988, General Zia’s project of conservative reform in Pakistan was cut short when his Hercules C130 mysteriously crashed. His death provides the inspiration for this novel, a comic spin on Muslim militarism that reads like a Rushdie rewrite of Catch 22. While deeply cynical, it is also touched with poetic fatalism: General Zia’s death is a thousand times foretold. Justly Booker longlisted, this debut is a dazzling one-off. No other Muslim assassination caper even comes close.’
Robert Macfarlane, The New York Times
‘Like Catch-22, it is best understood as a satire of militarism, regulation and piety…. Hanif has written a historical novel with an eerie timeliness…“A Case of Exploding Mangoes” is full of such topsy-turvy moments or incidents of farcical reversal. Absurdity operates as a scalable quality in Hanif’s vision of the world: it is visible in tiny details and geopolitical shifts alike.’
A Case of Exploding Mangoes was Mohammed Hanif’s debut novel. Published in 2008, it was longlisted for the Booker Prize that year, and won the 2008 Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize, the 2009 Commonwealth Book Prize, as well as being shortlisted for the 2008 Guardian First Book Award.
In October 2019, 11 years after it was published and longlisted for the Booker Prize, A Case of Exploding Mangoes was translated into Urdu and released in Pakistan.
The political satire is a fictionalised account of the events leading up to and immediately following the mysterious plane crash that killed Pakistan’s military director, General Zia-ul-Haq, in 1988. The novel depicts the General as paranoid and manipulative, and his military forces as politically corrupt and violent.
Zia had seized power in a coup in 1977 and became Pakistan’s longest-serving de facto head of state. A divisive figure, he was credited with preventing the Soviet Union from invading Pakistan, but blamed for creating conditions for religious intolerance. There were several theories as to what had caused Zia’s plane to crash, from mechanical failure to sabotage. According to one conspiracy theory, a crate of mangoes on board the aircraft contained a canister of nerve gas which exploded mid-flight, killing the pilots. This and other theories are explored in Hanif’s novel. In Robert Macfarlane’s review of the book in the New York Times in 2008, he said that ‘Zia’s fate is one of Pakistan’s two great political mysteries, the other being the assassination of Benazir Bhutto’.
In January 2021, Hanif reported that agents purporting to be members of the country’s Inter-Services Intelligence had raided the offices of the novel’s publisher in Karachi and seized every copy of the book. He then said they returned days later, taking with them names and addresses of bookshops and distributors of A Case of Exploding Mangoes. He claimed that copies of the book had been removed from shops across the country.
Hanif also alleged that prior to the raid, members of his family had sent a defamation note to his publisher complaining about the content of the novel and its portrayal of the General.
An ISI official dismissed the claims Hanif made, and told the Associated Press it was a ‘cheap attempt to gain popularity by hurling false accusations on a national institution’ and said they were not aware of any such raid being carried out by the ISI.
The act was condemned by Amnesty International who said it was ‘an alarming sign that freedom of expression continues to be under attack in Pakistan’.