Review of ‘Our Lady of Alice Bhatti’ by Mohammed Hanif

Lorraine Adams in The Daily Beast:

1338410023799.cachedAmerican drones kill Pakistani children. Pakistani military harbors Osama bin Laden for years. Most Pakistani women are illiterate. Pakistani corruption isrampant. The word from America’s frenemy seems uniformly bleak. The problems run deep.

Perhaps. Yet much of Pakistan comes to the West through the unsatisfactory filter of mass media. The dynamic culture that lies beneath news accounts remains unavailable to Americans, who, for example, know little of Pakistan’s revered poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz or its short-story master Saadat Hasan Manto. Even more hidden from view than Pakistan’s literary icons are the everyday lives of its desperate poor. Some authors from the newly acclaimed generation of fiction writers in English have explored the codependency of the impoverished and elite—Daniyal Mueenuddin is an especially talented example. But now with Our Lady of Alice Bhatti, Mohammed Hanif is the first to devote an entire novel to the downtrodden. In it, grim headlines and social problems give way to an improbable radiance. It’s an enthralling successor to his first novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, about the still unsolved 1988 assassination of President Zia ul-Haq.

Hanif has followed that much acclaimed book with a novel that’s a savage chronicle somehow hilarious, a love story entrancingly doomed, and an acerbic free-of-cliché portrait of Pakistan’s largest city. Part of its genius lies in Hanif’s shrewd understanding that what makes the disadvantaged unforgettable is not their crushing predicaments but how they invent ways to cope with them.

More here.