Summer Reading


Out of darkness comes light, or sometimes more darkness. That may be Mohammed Hanif’s message in A Case of Exploding Mangoes (Vintage, $15, 336 pp.). Hanif, a graduate of the Pakistan Air Force Academy, imagines the final days of General Mohammed Zia ul-Haq before that dictator’s death in a mysterious plane crash. Zia, seen here as a paranoid buffoon, begins each day by wondering who is trying to kill him. The prisons are filled with the hapless victims of his paranoia and ignorance; his hero is Nicolae Ceauşescu, the brutal Romanian dictator. Ali Shigri, a young Air Force pilot seeking revenge for his father’s death, sets the catastrophe in motion. Injustice and absurdity abound equally, giving Hanif the opportunity for extraordinarily dark and brilliant humor. General Zia’s last plane ride is memorable: onboard are tribute cases of mangoes for the general and poisoned air freshener for the pilots.

Alexander McCall Smith, a gentle moralist who has charmed me for years, wants the world to be good. In 44 Scotland Street (Anchor, $15, 325 pp.), he creates a jewel box of interesting characters and moral dilemmas. Fans of Ian Rankin’s boozy Edinburgh crime novels will hardly recognize McCall Smith’s version of the city. Here, nothing...

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About the Author

Valerie Sayers, professor of English at Notre Dame, is the author of six novels, including The Powers.