The Satirical Storyteller
Mohammed Hanif was born in Okara, Pakistan and joined the Pakistan Air Force Academy at 18, only to leave it a few years later. Literature will forever owe the Academy, because that is where Hanif stumbled on reading. “Discovering books was like stumbling on a second adolescence,” he later said. Thus started a career in journalism that included stints at Newsline, The Washington Post and the BBC. In London, he was the head of BBC Radio’s Urdu Service, and wrote plays for the stage and screen, including a critically acclaimed BBC drama and the feature film The Long Night.
But all this was merely preparation for Hanif’s explosion onto the big stage: A Case of Exploding Mangoes, his dark, satirical 2008 novel about two parallel assassination plots. It was one of the year’s most talked-about debuts and was shortlisted for the 2008 Guardian First Book Award, long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, and won the 2009 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for Best First Book, apart from being translated into 16 languages.
No-one was more surprised than Hanif, a graduate of the University of East Anglia’s creative writing programme, who reacted to the unexpected success with his customary casualness. In 2008, he returned to Karachi, Pakistan, arguing publicly that he missed the sea breeze.
His much-anticipated next novel Our Lady of Alice Bhatti hit bookstores in the third week of August, leaving Hanif free, for the moment, to explore a range of interests that include writing non-fiction, a couple of plays, a film or two and, curiously, even song lyrics. Not for him the literary elitism that successful authors often display; he’d like to stay active in journalism, too, he said in an interview to the International Herald Tribune, “because journalism is instant gratification, unlike writing a novel, which can be a lonely process.”