by Mohammed Hanif
“Our Lady of Alice Bhatti” is the second novel by Pakistani writer Mohammed Hanif. All Alice wants is to make a better life for herself, but for a Catholic in Karachi, life can be challenging.
Fresh from a spell in borstal, new nurse Alice Bhatti makes her mark on the staff and patients of the Sacred Heart Hospital for All Ailments. She also makes a big impression on part-time body builder and police enforcer, Teddy Butt.
Alice is a compassionate young woman, and that is at the heart of the book. She remains positive despite the inadequacies of the hospital a d the resigned negativity of some of the other members of staff. But in Teddy she finds someone who, like her, wants to be something more than birth and circumstances will allow.
But can there be any future for a young couple of mixed faiths and little hope for advancement?
I enjoyed this book, with its wonderful characters and incisive commentary on modern day Pakistan. “Our Lady” is a warm and thought provoking novel with an ending I did not anticipate, but on reflection was inevitable. There is plenty of humour and compassion, but there is also the underlying critique of Pakistani society that was so evident in Hanif’s debut novel “A Case of Exploding Mangoes”
I have read a few Indian/Pakistani writers in the past couple of years and admit to being fascinated by the insight to a culture so different from my own experiences.
Based on real characters and real events, A Case of Exploding Mangoes explores the events leading up the death of Pakistan’s military dictator General Zia up Haq in 1988. Set during a period of unrest and uncertainty in Eastern politics, Hanif uses his experience as both a pilot with the Pakistan Air Force and latterly as a journalist to tell a convincing tale.
Through young air force officer Ali Shigri, Hanif explores the strained relationships between the leading political and military figures in Pakistan at the time and the pettiness of their ambitions and desires.
The book switches between two parallel narratives, following Ali in his plan to assassinate his country’s leader, and that of General Haq himself.
There is a wonderful cast of characters, some adding to the humour of the book, others to the more sinister elements.
Despite the serious nature of the subject matter, the book is witty and captivating. Not being particularly knowledgeable of Pakistan’s history, I can’t make any comments about the accuracy or otherwise of the plot or characters. What I can say with conviction is that Mohammed Hanif has written an enthralling and very funny book.