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Literature / A Case of Exploding Mangoes

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A Case of Exploding Mangoes is a 2008 novel by Pakistani writer Mohammed Hanif. In the final months before his suspicious death by plane crash, Pakistani dictator General Zia ul-Haq grows increasingly paranoid. Ali Shigri, a Pakistan Air Force junior officer, meanwhile finds himself being interrogated after his close friend Obaid dies while stealing a plane from the base at which both are training. Features a very short cameo by Osama bin Laden.


A Case of Exploding Mangoes provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Blind Seer: Blind Zainab, despite nobody — including here — realizing that she's coincidentally done this.
  • Body Horror: Plenty to spare. In particular, General Zia suffers from a rampant endoparasite infection at the end of the book, leaking blood from his rear orifice as he walks.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Blind Zainab curses General Zia to be eaten alive by worms when she hears that she is being moved to a solitary confinement at another prison. A fairly straightforward curse, nobody comments on it, except the writer, who mentions in passing that curses only work when spoken to crows with filled stomach. Zainab has just fed a crow, who flies off and out of the story, reappearing only at the end of the book to be involved in two separate attempts to kill Zia.
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  • Colonel Badass: Colonel Shigri, Ali Shigri's father, is a highly recognized character who kills himself before the beginning of the book. Several characters mention him.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: General Zia's bodyguard who is killed by being given a sabotaged parachute when he jumps out of a plane during a paratrooper demonstration. It is also implied that Blind Zainab will be stoned to death, but this does not happen in the course of the book.
  • Deadly Gas: Yet another weapon being used to assassinate General Zia at the climax of the book
  • Death Is Dramatic: Holds true completely, unusual in that the book is written realistically. The two minor deaths - Secretary General and the spy working for the ISI - are disposed of relatively cleanly. Zia's bodyguard dies while skydiving, splatting dramatically. Colonel Shigri's death, though glanced over to some extent, is very dramatic. Finally, almost all the major characters die in a very dramatic plane crash at the end of the book.
  • Disgusting Public Toilet: Shigri has an aversion to unclean toilets. This is later used to torture him, by forcing him to spend the night in a particularly filthy latrine. Shigri forces himself to spend the entire night standing.
  • Flashback Cut: Shigri's memories of his father and Obaid.
  • Hellhole Prison: Constructed under the Lahore Fort (ironically, by Ali Shigri's father). It's particular brand of hell is having the prisoners kept in large, roomy, but completely dark rooms.
  • How We Got Here: A good portion of the book describes in flashbacks the scheme which resulted in Obaid's failed aircraft heist and the evolution of Shigri's scheme to kill General Zia.
  • Kick the Dog: Major Kilani gets to do this with Ali Shigri's prisonmate, known only as Secretary General. Additionally, he claims to be Ali Shigri right before he shoots, leading to Shigri feeling guilty that Secretary General thinks he betrayed him.
  • Mid Air Repair: Attempted unsuccessfully by General Zia's bodyguard on his sabotaged parachute.
  • Never Suicide: Ali Shigri's father died under suspicious conditions; we very quickly learn that Shigri believes his father was killed.
  • Plausible Deniability: Since actual information about General Zia's death is scant, this novel has considerable room to guess at the cause of his death.
  • Poisoned Weapons: Ali Shigri's sword. Trope played straight, as the Ali Shigri - then narrating in the first person - is conscious that his attempt to poison Zia ul-Haq should have been successful; Obaid, who assumed the plot was to attack the general directly with the sword, is glad to see his friend choose not to attack Zia as had been planned.
  • The Chessmaster: General Akhtar (an actual spymaster) attempts this. It ends badly.
  • The Starscream: Both General Akhtar and General Beg seem to be plotting to replace General Zia as President by the end of the book.
  • Torture Cellar: Under the Lahore fort. Ali Shigri is briefly kept in one, and perfunctorily beaten up - the torturer is specifically told to not leave any permanent marks. His friend, Obaid, is not treated quite as well.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: The book opens with General Zia having a premonition of his death. It ends with his death.
  • You Killed My Father: Ali Shigri's entire motivation.


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