Another 15-hour work day week starts soon, so let me get this over with. Short on time, so quick notes. I liked the book. Better than the other two I have read so far - I didn't care much for the Rushdie and I don't even want to compare the Grant.
Story (Spoiler Alert)
The question is simple: Who killed General Zia?
We all know the usual suspects:
CIA (yeah, I know. But if they didn't kill one of their own, wouldn't we suspect them?)
RAW (Yeah right)
One of the surviving generals
To this list, Hanif adds a few more:
1. A snake (via Under Officer Ali Shigri's sword)
2. The curse of a blind woman sentenced to death for being gangraped (via a mango-eating crow)
3. A General who died with General Zia (via a lavender air freshner)
4. All of the above
The correct answer as you have guessed by now is obviously 4. All conspiracy theories can't be true? Says who? Go read the book.
When I started reading the book, for some vague reason, I was reminded of Oscar Wao. But there is no similiarity between this book and Diaz's except for the presence of a dictator. Plus Hanif is not half as talented as Diaz in matters of prose and well, he isn't a geek either. Then for a while I thought wait, this is Heller territory, here is Yossarian but hang on, isn't this Forsyth? By the time I was halfway through the book, I gave up on such comparisons. It was all very pointless. This is just this chap Hanif. And all that mattered was that once the momentum picked up, the book was so entertaining that I just had to finish it.
What the book is not
So I picked this book up because a few reviews said it was all magic realism and absurdist humor. Marquez, Rushdie, and Kafka were all mentioned. Nonsense. There is no magic realism in this book. It has a lot of humor but nothing absurd. Nobody, and I mean nobody who has lived in the subcontinent for a few years would think anything in this book is absurd. It is all too real. (Except for a dollar-burning honest Colonel, a revenge-obsessed public school-educated young Under Officer, and a saintly blind woman all of whom are straight from a Bollywood script)
A Fourth of July Kabul-Texas theme party at the American Consulate where a chap named OBL is told to keep up the good work. General Zia's wife standing last in a long line of widows to fight with husband. Comrade Secretary General of the Sweepers Union who prefers mullahs to the Maoists.
Humor. Hanif decides that every line in the book has to ooze humor and thus prove how clever he is. The result is that a good many lines fall flat.
Obaid is a nice enough chap. Tries to save lover's life and gets tortured and all. Quotes Rilke. Refuses to get off plane when lover asks him to because he has to finish the book he is reading - Chronicles of a Death Foretold. As I said, nice chap. But does he have to read Richard Bach? Really?
Not exactly big-award material. Could do with some character development (I have a feeling Falsie is going to call a few characters wooden!). Thoroughly entertaining. Is as real and insightful as you want it to be (especially given current events). Writer shows lot of promise. Shall definitely read his next book.