Wednesday, May 15, 2013

An Author a Day for Thirty Days: Day 15

Mohammed Hanif
A great author can make me interested in a topic that I previously ignored. Joyce Carol Oates made me care about Marilyn Monroe in Blonde. Believe it or not, I was not in the least bit interested in Paris until I read Adam Gopnik's Paris to the Moon years ago, and ever since then I've longed to go. I'm not a particularly avid news junky, and often my knowledge of culture and history comes from the books I read.

I didn't really pay attention to Pakistan until I read Mohammed Hanif's two novels. I could name a handful of Indian writers, but Pakistan is a different story. Luckily, Mohammed Hanif, if he is to be the representative author for a nation, is incredibly talented. He's also a master of dark comedy. My kind of guy.
General Zia-ul-Haq

Mohammed Hanif's first novel was A Case of Exploding Mangoes. Hanif drew on his background as a Pakistani Air Force pilot for his protagonist Ali, a pilot intent on avenging his father's death. His target? General Zia, Pakistan's dictator. Fans of the book/movie Charlie Wilson's War might recall Zia as a central player in the US arming of the Afghanistan mujahideen; the Pakistan President even visited lowly Lufkin, Texas, once (Charlie's district headquarters). In A Case of Exploding Mangoes, Ali is on a mission to bring down Zia, and what follows is an elaborate plot, some awkward moments, a great group of conspirators, and a mango-loving crow.

Following up on Mangoes, Mohammed Hanif delivered a terrific sophomore novel in Our Lady of Alice Bhatti. Alice is the new junior nurse at the Sacred Heart Hospital for All Ailments in Karachi, Pakistan. From the start, though, Alice isn't just another nurse. She's a Christian in a Muslim country, she's just been released from jail, and her father is a part-time faith healer. Alice begins her own healing miracles, caring for the patients and staff at the hospital. Her new husband--a body builder and cop--and her place caught between religious, cultural, and gender roles threatens Alice's world. Weirdly enough, though, Mohammed Hanif has made this world comic. It's horrifying and tragic and enraging, but there's also a bit of the absurd and hilarious. I think that people in hell have the best senses of humor.

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