Thursday, 18 October 2018

Red Birds by Mohammed Hanif


Red Birds by Mohammed Hanif
Published by Bloomsbury today, the 18th October 2018.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository
Wordery
Waterstones
Amazon US / Amazon UK

An American pilot crash lands in the desert and takes refuge in the very camp he was supposed to bomb. Hallucinating palm trees and worrying about dehydrating to death isn't what Major Ellie expected from this mission. Still, it's an improvement on the constant squabbles with his wife back home.

In the camp, teenager Momo's money-making schemes are failing. His brother left for his first day at work and never returned, his parents are at each other's throats, his dog is having a very bad day, and an aid worker has shown up wanting to research him for her book on the Teenage Muslim Mind. 

Written with his trademark wit, keen eye for absurdity and telling important truths about the world today, Red Birds reveals master storyteller Mohammed Hanif at the height of his powers.

I hadn't read any of Mohammed Hanif's writing before so went into Red Birds with no preconceptions and absolutely loved every page of this novel. The story is told mostly through three points of view (although others join in the later stages): American pilot, Major Ellie; local teenager, Momo; and Momo's dog, Mutt. Don't be put off by the idea of a talking dog. Mutt's humour did remind me a little of Manchee in The Knife Of Never Letting Go however Mutt only 'speaks' to us, not to the other characters, and his chapters are brilliant!

Red Birds is primarily set in a refugee camp, possibly in Pakistan, possibly not. The people there have been living in makeshift accommodation and relying on charitable handouts for years and, as an illustration of the dire straits in which they live, part of the camp sign has disintegrated leaving them technically just 'fugees'. Hanif's writing is dotted with such original notions as this and I love his eye for detail. Momo's mother somehow manages to create adequate meals for her family every day and the appearance of Major Ellie as another mouth to feed hardly fazes her, yet being unable to flavour the food properly because there is never any salt drives her to distraction.

Despite the extreme poverty depicted, there is a lightness to Hanif's writing that makes Red Birds very readable and entertaining. I was easily drawn in to the story and wasn't actually consciously aware of the darker aspects starting to surround me although I did notice myself beginning to feel uneasy as the novel progressed. There are several unanswered questions and we don't know whose version of events is the one we should believe. I won't give any clues because I appreciated not knowing in advance myself, but this story gives powerful insights into the experiences of displaced people and I think some of its imagery will stay with me for a long time. I wouldn't be surprised to see Red Birds as my Book of the Month for October.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Mohammed Hanif / Contemporary fiction / Books from Pakistan

8 comments:

  1. That sounds like an interesting book.

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  2. Getting a dog POV sounds so fun! And this does sound like it is somehow both light and dark. Glad it was so good!

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    1. Red Birds is a great story. It got me thinking about dark and serious issues, but the novel itself has a light touch so it isn't depressing to read

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  3. I love how he started with the American pilot and moves us into the lives of the refugees. Helping him and us understand what they are going through. Love the idea the dog gets his own chapter! Great review Stephanie! ❤️❤️

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    1. The different viewpoints are cleverly intertwined to give us an in depth portrayal of the people and their environment, and also to create strong tension because we know something is being hidden from us and no one quite reveals what it is for a long time

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  4. It's quite an art for the author to be able to make a difficult and deeply emotional book sometimes have light hearted moments to help carry the reader through it. I was a bit wary about the dog perspective but you told me not to worry so I will give it a chance anyway :)

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    1. I was a little concerned about a dog's perspective, but it does work and I think the novel benefits from those lighter chapters - although they are still quite bleak humour

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