I had bought this book and kept it on the virtual shelf for a while before I went ahead and read it, because I wasn’t quite sure if it would be depressing or funny and I wasn’t quite sure what sort of book I wanted to read. It turned out not to matter since it was both, and neither – every review of this book I’ve seen has made the Catch-22 comparison, but it’s very well deserved! it is all the more raw for being set in Pakistan in the mid-80s, and recognizable and disturbing for that very reason.
The central event of this book happens on August 17, 1988, when the plane carrying the dictator General Zia, the US Ambassador and several top generals crashes. The story covers the months before and flits between General Zia, increasingly paranoid about attempts on his life, and Ali Shigri, a cadet at the academy who harbours suspicions on the manner of his father’s death. It describes the increasing Islamisation of Pakistan under General Zia, the attendant absurdities and hypocrisies, and the frustrations of a certain Saudi construction company representative known only as “OBL” at the US Ambassador’s faux Afghan tribal barbecue.
It’s a book that relies more on atmosphere than plot, but there are genuine moments of reveal, doled out almost nonchalantly, and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, so: Read it.