Red Birds – an acutely observed refugee tale

Ben East in The Guardian:

In a squalid, lawless “fugee” camp (the letters R and e have fallen off the entrance gate) that looks and smells like a giant Portaloo, one of the characters in Mohammed Hanif’s ambitious third novel considers running away to the desert. “What’s the worst that can happen,” he thinks. “I’ll starve to death. I’ll roast under the sun. God left this place a long time ago… He had had enough. I have had a bit more than that.” This philosophical passage is spoken by a dog called Mutt, and Hanif’s book is undoubtedly a high-wire act. Red Birds constantly threatens to fall apart, its characters and locations both achingly realistic and elusively metaphysical. But that’s part of its charm: you never know where Hanif’s farce will go next. He starts with an American pilot crashing in the desert near a downgraded refugee camp “full of human scum” he was supposed to bomb. When Major Ellie finally reaches the outskirts of the camp, Mutt introduces him to a teenage refugee named Momo, who is using an old copy of Fortune as his guide to becoming a hotshot businessman.

Momo is also being harassed by a USAID worker nicknamed “Lady Flowerbody”, who sees him as ideal material for her book on the “teenage Muslim mind”. The irony is not lost on Momo’s mother, mourning for her eldest son, Bro Ali, who has mysteriously disappeared in the Hangar – an abandoned American refuelling facility next to the camp. “First they bomb our house, then they take away my son, and now [they] are here to make us feel all right,” she says.

More here.