Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Zia zia piano piano


So it goes: first book very good, second book very bad. Well, just plain awful actually. Mohammed Hanif's A Case of Exploding Mangoes essays a fictional account of an actual event - the assassination of the deeply unpleasant President Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan on August 17th 1988. It shares something of the manic, riotous, image-laden quality so often evident in writing from the sub-continent, from Rushdie through Arundhati Roy to last year's Animal's People, but here applied with what my mother would call 'a nasty streak'. Every character is venal, self-obsessed and corrupt, and they all suffer various repulsive humiliations before meeting sticky, unpleasant ends. You finish the novel feeling as if you've supped on carrion. Haven't been to Pakistan, but it's hard to believe that any place on earth is as bleakly unpleasant and unredeemable as Hanif's fictionalised homeland.

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