Not Quite a Review of Mangoes….

June 4, 2008 | No Comments

I try not to get seduced by the marketing frenzy accompanying a hot new release, but sometimes I find myself scrambling for an advance copy and ripping it from the envelope, desperate to read “a deeply intelligent book,” coming at “a fraught moment in world history.” Such was the case with A Case of Exploding Mangoes, the debut novel by Mohammed Hanif, a former member of the Pakistani Air Force and current journalist for the BBC.
Mangoes is well-written, and often very ironic, but I may not remember it a year from now, and it presents a perfect example of hype based on subject matter not craft. Hanif’s story of the assassination of a Pakistani dictator comes shortly after the tragedy of Benazir Bhutto, and it is this co-incidence, along with the publisher’s insistence on its similarities to Catch 22 (another book, sorry, that I feel is over-hyped), that has propelled this front-end marketing frenzy. Frenzy, I note, which has yet to translate into sales.
My copy is filled with little stickies – usually an indication that something has caught my interest – but when I flick back through to articulate my response to the novel, I find a few scenes that are truly funny, and an overall nagging dis-satisfaction. It is a vague book, I couldn’t pin down the central character, Ali Shigri, or believe his desire for revenge, and the plot shifted from vague location to vague location, with characters who drifted on and off the page without knowing who they really were, where they come from, or what has happened to them, with the exception of that glorious ego-maniac, the dictator himself. I felt as though I was reading Hanif’ book through a scrim. And from page one, I kept waiting, waiting, for the appearance of those darned mangoes….