This book is one of the best dark political comic thriller that I have read in a long time..this is bitingly satirical and at times cuts you like a knife while making you split on the other side with laughter.
And for anyone who knows Pakistan’s troubled political landscape even passingly, this book is a realization that the best way to express themselves is by humour – the savagely comical variety. The truth which would be depressing in a factual format suddenly becomes something that can be laughed at and laughed with. You understand the anguish much better when you have shed a few tears of laughter…
The book is based loosely around the assassination of General Zia-ul-Haq, who died with almost his full military brass and the American ambassador in a plane crash in 1988.
But the story becomes a sort of “Murder on Orient Express”, with everyone trying to do the killing – the generals, trade unions and our hero and narrator, Under Officer Ali Shigri, who seeks revenge for the death of his father, a decorated officer but who is ultimately haunted by his actions.
The book is dark and funny at the same time. The events happening are dark but the narrative and the characterisation makes it humorous. There is intense lampooning of General Zia and other military top brass, which cuts them down to size and makes you almost feel sorry for them at-times. In fact Zia comes across as a dangerously deluded avuncular character who has got worms in his ass, who is browbeaten by his wife and uses the Koran as a daily horoscope.
That the author makes the country almost devoid of civilian in the narrative is deliberate. It heightens the sense that the military are living in their own lie. And the occasional glimpses of the people only results in them abusing the ‘uniforms’, much to the soldiers’ amazement, who thought they were idolized…
The book alternates, in its chapters, between Ali and Zia, with our narrator stumbling from one hole to another (sometimes, quite literally), meeting quite interesting characters on the way especially the ‘Secretary General of the All Pakistan Sweepers Union’. Zia, on the other hand moves from one paranoia to another, convinced that someone is out to kill him (he was not wrong of course!!). The two characters converge in the closing part of the book, when Zia is killed in more ways than one!!!
What makes this book stand out is that the material it deals with is dark yet the author manages to bring out the laugh out of you almost every page. You feel like a phantom floating above a comic opera. And that is the best vantage point from which to see the panorama. At times what Zia and Co is doing almost seems unreal, but then you realize that we have been fed too many boring news reels!!! And seeing them bumbling around makes you almost closer to them and produces better laughs!!!
And boy, is this book racy. I finished it in one sitting and its 364 pages long! It just keeps you on the edge, not only with the humour but also because you can see the plot thickening!!! And yes, the political satire is mature, which makes it even more enjoyable!!!
One of the best reads of the year for me definitely, if not one of the best of all times!!!