I have been deferring my review on this book for some time now. It’s because I haven’t decided what I think about it. Let me try to get my thoughts clear by jotting down what I remember and feel about it.
The novel is based on the assassination of Gen Zia-ul-Haq, the President of Pakistan, in 1988. I do not know if all the facts related to Gen. Haq as described by the author are true, they definitely do not paint a very favourable face of the late President.
The narration is comic, sometimes tragically so. But it keeps one on the edge to know what is going to happen next and how Gen Haq finally meets his end.
A person who is not familiar with the history and current events of India and Pakistan may not be able to fully gauge the references to “Partition”, “Nehru”, “Indira Gandhi’s assassination”, “Lata or Asha?” and so on. Let me pause to say I did not enjoy the descriptions of Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle – it was not funny.
I may be wrong (for I do not have the book with me here for a final reference, though I re-read the sentences several times to convince myself I am not wrong), but in one place there is a statement describing the American Ambassador (I forget the name) as being forty-five, and will not live to see his forty-third birthday. Did I miss something here?
There are ambiguities in the first chapter where Ali Shigri escorts the President and others to the plane. It would seem that he knew all of them who would board the plane are going to die (“I salute a bunch of dead men”). After finishing the novel, if we come back to read it again, we can see the differences. (Ali Shigri knew one of them was going to die for sure, but not all.) Again I might have missed something, forgive and enlighten me.
The flow of incidents and the suspicion that the author generates in the minds of the reader as to who-what-when-where-how of the assassination (indeed, the President seems to be surrounded by those who want him dead and a crowd of other harmless sequences that could bring about his death) makes it an interesting read. Not a book you can put down easily – you would want to finish it before going to sleep!
For a much better & detailed review, please read this.