the observer Sat 06 June 2009
In 1988, General Zia's project of conservative reform in Pakistan was cut short when his Hercules C130 mysteriously crashed. His death provides the inspiration for this novel, a comic spin on Muslim militarism that reads like a Rushdie rewrite of Catch 22. While deeply cynical (a typical aside explains how an American corporal "had been taught in his cultural sensitivity course not to offer alcohol to the locals unless you had an ulterior motive or the local absolutely insisted"), it is also touched with poetic fatalism: General Zia's death is a thousand times foretold. Justly Booker longlisted last year, this debut is a dazzling one-off. No other Muslim assassination caper even comes close.
the guardian Fri 05 June 2009
In Hanif's robust satire, Osama bin Laden idles hopefully at the edge of a group of CIA chiefs, ignores a journalist's jibes and wanders, stomach rumbling, into the hospitality tent. General Zia, a vital player in the defeat of the Russians in Afghanistan, would be the centre of attention. But Zia's paranoia has peaked, and Pakistan's dictator is cycling incognito down a wide road, swathed in his wife's shawl, on his way to the plane trip that will kill him. Hanif takes the crash of his Hercules - which went down in 1988, taking the US ambassador with it - as the hook on which to hang a vivid twin narrative centred on Zia and Ali Shigri, an air force cadet whose rifle-flinging "silent drill" gives him a key role in the country's Independence Day parade. When his roommate goes missing, Shigri is taken to the Lahore Fort's stinking underbelly for interrogation. Hanif has great fun setting ideals against reality and east alongside west, portraying a feudal court in which generals sport Ray-Bans, Pepsi sponsors memorial floats, and Texans save up to buy rocket launchers.