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Our Lady of Alice Bhatti Paperback – September 1, 2011
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About the Author
Mohammed Hanif was born in Okara, Pakistan, in 1965. He graduated from Pakistan Air Force Academy as Pilot Officer, but subsequently left to pursue a career in journalism. He has written plays for the stage and BBC radio, and his film The Long Night has been shown at film festivals around the world. His first novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2009. He is currently head of the BBC's Urdu Service and lives in London.
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This is a funny-sad novel written in the style of an Pakistani speaking English--by the way it is published in England's English, i.e., humour. Potential readers need to be aware that you may need to be patient getting into the syntax as well as the sytle, one in which the reader isn't always that certain what is happening when a new scene emerges, but then suddenly the reader has the ah-ha enlightenments.
The novel is set in Karachi's Christian slum, the French Colony, with Alice Bhatti, skinny from malnutrition except large in breats, is the delightful main character, "an underpaid junior nurse in an understaffed" [very, very understaffed] "welfare hospital, The Scared. The cast is wonderful including Alice's father, Joseph, who isn't really very wonderful at all--her mother died when Alice was young--but then emerges in a very unique and very surprising role at the end in the epilogue. (The reader will not easily forget the ending of this novel, an ending that gives meaning to the title.) Noor is a 17-year-old hospital worker who simultaneously is caring for his mother, dying of cancer, often the only way to swat away the pests that inhabit the unsanitary place. The not-so-skilled main doctor, Dr. Pereira, and the sardonic nurse supervising Alice, Sisster Hina Alvi. Alice, by the way, was, in the corrupted view of the administration of the nursing school where she was "trained" "its most troublesome student." Delightfully so for the reader.
"Sometimes it seems to her [Alice] that the seven thousand patients in the hospital, hundreds crawling in the corridor, thousands more out in the compound using bricks as pillows, are feeling a bit better because they are in the hospital compound, only a few metres away from operating theatres, labs and drug dispensaries." In other words his hospital is on the edge of the section of Karachi where the wealthy live and work and are cared for.
The novel is filled with back stories, sometimes told obliquely in unexpected places, giving the reader a sudden jolt of additional pleasure--or sadness.
Alice meets Teddy Butt, an underling policeman who waxes his body-builder being and is in charge of getting criminals to and from places including not-Abu Zar. (I will not explain the not-Abu because that is part of the fun of the novel if you like your fun to be on the flip side of tragic. And Teddy's boss is Inspector Malangi who has a rather, well, I won't tell, last day on the job, on the day he retires.
And then comes the epilogue. And I won't say more except that this is a really underrated novel by some of the reviewers here.
"Our Lady of Alice Bhatti" is a riff on Pakistan's brutal oppression of women as seen through the brief life of a hospital nurse from one of Karachi's slums. It is cleverly structured and somehow Hanif manages to leaven his tale with dark humor. As I said, I don't know how Hanif does it. This novel is brilliant.
I'm not going to give away the plots to Alice Bhatti or The Case of Exploding Mangoes because readers need to explore for themselves...I will say though, if you want to read a story conveying the reality people live with in the Far East but don't want the mental drain of kaled Hosseini (whom I loved reading, but left me exhausted) read a Mohammad Hanif book...he's a fantastic storyteller.
It's a tough world over there, count your blessings for those of you in a country free of war!
Most recent customer reviews
Highly recommend it to anyone looking for a read beyond the usual .