Waiting behind a line of people to do something is not uncommon, whether it is to deposit a check at the bank, to get a coveted spot in a popular professor’s class or to get an armful of vaccinations at the travel clinic. The Case of the Exploding Mangoes, in a way, revolves around another line, a line much less mundane. Mohammed Hanif’s tale is centered on the queue of various folks preparing to assassinate General Zia ul-Haq, the dictator of Pakistan.
The main character, Ali Shigri, doesn’t believe the official line he has been told, that his father, a powerful Pakistani general, committed suicide. He is convinced that his father’s death was the work of Zia’s men and he intends to avenge his father’s early demise. While he enlists the help of several contacts, these other men don’t always stay true to the plan, going a bit rouge and creating assassination scenarios of their own, which play out in ways that Shigri could never have imagined.
Shirgri’s camp isn’t the only one vying for the opportunity to knock of the nation’s leader. Several of his subordinates see his removal as a way to move up the ladder, gaining more power for themselves. These other groups of would-be assassins feel no remorse at taking additional lives if it helps them meet their end goal. Parachutes don’t always open, right?
At times, it isn’t always clear who exactly who is working together, who is going out on their own personal mission and who is even really in the hunt for Zia’s head. While the label comedy too much “ha-ha” to fit this book, satire is definitely accurate. The story may revolve around the Pakistani army and leadership, but the type of power struggle and desire for revenge winding through the pages is one that plays out in politics and business on a daily basis.
I love the way the book starts at the ending, leaving the reader with a bit of a mystery, but one that is too intriguing to allow the book to be laid aside. Because the opening paragraphs of the book come back in their full form towards the very end of the book, I had a flashback to my years of teaching The Outsiders to 8th graders. While the two books are NOTHING alike, their formats do mirror each other, forcing the reader to create a story that starts with the end. Page one lets the reader in on the imminent death of General Zia, it is just a matter of unraveling the tangled paths that create the opening scene. “Pakistan” and “assassination” are not usually tags I am looking for when I go searching for a new book, but Mohammed Hanif’s A Case of Exploding Mangoes manages to intertwine them to tell a tale that is definitely deserving of: