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Saturday, November 22, 2008

‘The book started out as a prank’

Mohammed Hanif is the author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes, a novel about the death of Pakistani president, General Zia, in a plane crash. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2008, the critically acclaimed and popular work is part detective novel, part conspiracy theory, part journalistic inquiry, and part satire. Hilarious and shot through with a finely controlled pathos, the novel is a telling comment on political power, the world of contemporary Pakistan, and the absurdities that are the stuff of history itself.

A graduate of the Pakistan Air Force Academy, Hanif is also a playwright, filmmaker, and journalist. The head of BBC UK’s Urdu service, he is currently based in Karachi. In this interview with Rohit Chopra, he talks about the curious and varied inspirations for the novel, having to overcome his journalistic training in writing the book, and his scepticism about the category of ‘South Asian’ writing.


How was this book born? Could you tell us something about its genesis?

I wanted to write a book, a novel, for a very long time but didn’t really have any idea where to start and where to end. As a journalist I had tried to investigate General Zia’s plane crash and found it quite amazing that I didn’t find any verifiable facts but came across a number of theories. It just seemed that everyone had a motive. I was quite fascinated by that notion. What if everyone was trying to kill him? And then came the next logical thought, what if I was trying to kill him? So basically the book started out as a prank. When I started the actual writing, I wanted it to be in a thriller mode, a humorous take on the John Le Carre-type novels that I used to love as a young man. It was only when I had finished the novel and it went out to the publishers—and I didn’t really know much about genre—that I found out that I had written what people in the business insist on calling a ‘literary novel.’....


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