Claire Armistead in The Guardian:
They put GPS chips in pets and migratory birds now. How can someone flying around in a 65-million-dollar machine get lost?” With these words – spoken by a US airman who has just crashed his jet in an unnamed desert – Mohammed Hanif upends his own premise in the opening pages of his new novel. It is a typically bold manoeuvre from a satirical writer who was himself once a pilot – “a really bad one” – and whose work is full of references to military hardware. His Booker-longlisted debut A Case of Exploding Mangoes placed a cart of the fruit alongside Pakistan’s president Zia ul-Haq on a doomed C-130 Hercules; his second told of a spirited convent nurse married off on a nuclear submarine. But jokey though his fiction appears, its political mission is Orwellian – his work is underpinned by a sense of a corrupt world that is constantly embattled. “I think I must have been at high school when the Afghan war started, so we grew up with these kinds of conflicts, and then they started to replicate themselves around the world. These wars never end. The attention just moves somewhere else,” says the 53-year-old novelist, journalist and occasional playwright.
Never-ending war is the location of Red Birds, albeit one in which the bombing has mysteriously stopped. The lost airman, Major Ellie, is transported to a refugee camp by a young boy who discovers him while scouring the desert for his injured dog. The boy, Momo, is the book’s most vivid creation – an adolescent huckster who drives a “jeep Cherokee with a fat, fading USAid logo” and is hell-bent on rescuing his older brother from a sinister military base known as The Hangar. “People ask where it’s set and I say it’s set in my head,” says Hanif, who riffs that he had hoped to write a novel in which bad things can’t happen. “I know a lot of people who are very happy with their lives – who go around doing good things, or believing that they are doing good things.”