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From the author of the acclaimed A Case of Exploding Mangoes (“An insanely brilliant, satirical first novel . . . Belongs in a tradition that includes Catch-22”—The Washington Post), a subversively, often shockingly funny new novel set in steaming Karachi, about second chances, thwarted ambitions and love in the most unlikely places.
The patients of the Sacred Heart Hospital for All Ailments need a miracle. Alice Bhatti may be just what they’re looking for. She’s the new junior nurse, but that’s the only ordinary thing about her. She’s just been released from the Borstal Jail for Women and Children. But more to the point, she’s the daughter of a part-time healer in the French Colony, Karachi’s infamous Christian slum, and it seems she has, unhappily, inherited his part-time gift. With a bit of begrudging but inspired improvisation, Alice begins to bring succor to the patients lining the hospital’s corridors and camped outside its gates. But all is not miraculous. Alice is a Christian in an Islamic world, ensnared in the red tape of hospital bureaucracy, trapped by the caste system, torn between her duty to her patients, her father and her husband—who is a former bodybuilding champion, now an apprentice to the nefarious “Gentleman’s Squad” of the Karachi police, and about to drag Alice into a situation so dangerous that perhaps not even a miracle will be able to save them. But, of course, Alice Bhatti is no ordinary young woman . . .
At once a high comedy of errors and a searing illumination of the seemingly unchangeable role of women in Pakistan’s lower-caste society, Our Lady of Alice Bhatti is a resounding confirmation of Mohammed Hanif’s gifts of storytelling and of razor-sharp social satire.
“The hugely talented Pakistani writer Mohammed Hanif’s utterly fearless Our Lady of Alice Bhatti [is] a novel marked by an irreverence that dances on the line of what extremists could easily call blasphemy. . . . Frequently dazzling. . . . [Told] with a frenzied sense of humor and genuine humanity—and a freewheeling dauntlessness that is exhilarating to behold.” —Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal
“Hanif’s magnificently acerbic critique of the sorry state of women’s rights in Pakistan is possessed by a Swiftian spirit. . . . In the hands of a lesser writer, a novel dealing with these themes would run the risk of turning didactic and self-righteous. But Hanif’s skewering wit and his acute journalistic sense of observation consistently shine through. This is a brisk, biting narrative, entirely shorn of sentimentality and exoticism, and fuelled by an anger born of deep compassion.” —Faiza S. Khan, The New Republic
“Mohammed Hanif has a magically light touch with his extremely dark material. Our Lady of Alice Bhatti may be the blackest comedy that’s been written in the twenty-first century so far. And somewhere trapped in the back of its throat is a desperate cry for reform.” —Madison Smartt Bell
“Laced with humor, often ribald and iconoclastic, this is an insightful tale of pain and love, a story of a quest for humanity and grace in a desperate, chaotic society. . . . Outsider and renegade, openhearted and cynical, Alice is a strikingly memorable character. . . . Hanif’s setting is spot on: Karachi as Karachi-Western-misperceived.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Absurdity and chaos reign in rising Pakistani author Hanif’s rowdy fusion of social commentary and curiously bloody love story. . . . In this amusing novel, Hanif renders the intricacies and limitations of Pakistan’s lowest rungs with humor and candor, allowing as little pity for his characters as they allow themselves.” —Publishers Weekly
“Much as we might want to read Hanif’s novel on its own terms, as a fiercely intimate and particular story, a Chekhovian study in withheld judgment, recent history has made it, almost despite itself, a scorching indictment of a society’s moral collapse. . . . Like the Baltimore of The Wire or the London of Little Dorrit, Hanif’s Karachi is not so much a city as an endlessly metastasizing disease. . . . Our Lady of Alice Bhatti is a political novel, to the extent that for her the desire for human dignity is itself political, but it is not ‘an anthropological treatise about the survival strategies employed by Catholics in predominantly Islamic societies,’ nor a polemic designed to prick the sympathies of Western readers. Hanif’s sympathies are much too broad for that. . . . Life is cheap in Karachi, but not in this novel, which imbues all its moments with unsparing warmth and almost unbearable pathos.” —Jess Row, Bookforum
“This is a wonderful book about faith. . . . I am so gripped by what the book is trying to tell me that I cannot put it down. I am on a flight from Spain and I don’t notice when the plane lands at Gatwick. When they try to empty the plane I am glued to my seat, reading, lost, but in a good way.” —Melissa Kite, Spectator
“Perhaps Pakistan’s brightest English-language voice. . . . Our Lady of Alice Bhatti is a book like life, a comedy for those who think, a tragedy for those who feel. The tone is profoundly humane, and humanist. . . . Our Lady of Alice Bhatti is certainly not allegorical–it has too much unruly life of its own to fit smoothly into any neat political scheme–but it is somehow representative, broadly suggestive of the sad state of a nation. . . . Hanif does Karachi better than Rushdie does Bombay. . . . The novel is full of fine little touches that are never pushed too far. . . . Hanif knows his way inside his characters, into their sexualities, fears, resentments and hopes. He transmits their complexities and their deadly simplicities. . . . This very finely put-together novel sparkles and glitters but never shows off. It’s a comedy possessing the quality Calvino called lightness, but it’s deeper than it first appears. . . . Hanif’s novel is relentlessly readable, compulsively so as it surges towards its apocalyptic conclusion.” —Robin Yassin-Kassab, Guardian
“Rambunctious, vulgar, funny and moving, Our Lady of Alice Bhatti wields enormous emotional punch, drawing on a far broader affective palette than Hanif's previous book, and succeeding in making every character credible, even the walk-on parts. The social concerns around which the novel turns—the shocking plight of Pakistan’s women and the culture’s entrenched yet casual misogyny–are handled in a way that is never preachy or obtrusive, but woven organically into the narrative. . . . Our Lady of Alice Bhatti is a stealthy book. Not until the end does the reader realize that the deft skewering of a social ill may have been Hanif's intention all along. This is largely because there are no characters who play to stereotype. The book is instead peopled with three-dimensional individuals, who live with their flaws and what life throws at them, improvising responses to extraordinary situations. Right now the world could do with more books that portray Pakistanis that way.” —Neel Mukherjee, Time magazine
“In this bold, uncompromising novel, Hanif draws a compassionate and despairing portrait of a nation in bedlam. . . . The 200 pages spent in Alice Bhatti’s presence are distressing, illuminating and often funny.” —Alice Albinia, Financial Times
“Hanif’s storytelling is frequently impressive. . . . Touching and unusual.” —Faith Brinkley, Literary Review
“A Case of Exploding Mangoes established Hanif, already an accomplished journalist who was head of the BBC’s Urdu service, as a brave, gifted, and important author with a sharp insight into Pakistan’s politics and recent history. . . . Our Lady of Alice Bhatti is as striking as its predecessor. . . . Ultimately, it is at once a fiercely tender novel about different kinds of love, and a terrible tale of what happens when love turns bad.” —Tina Jackson, Metro
“It confirms [Hanif] as one of the subcontinent’s most compelling talents. . . . Alice Bhatti’s Karachi is so alive with sensations that you can smell the sewers, hear the screeching of tyres, and feel the humidity. . . . He may hold a mirror to a society marred by corruption, violence and injustice, and his humour can be savage, but Hanif finds the humanity in the most flawed of his protagonists and, in some unfathomable way, ends up affirming it.” —Mary Crockett, Scotsman
“A deft, evil little novel of comic genius. . . . Like Joseph Heller, Hanif specializes in a kind of horror and humor joined at the root. Stripped of the slapstick and magic realist special effects, Alice Bhatti is a blistering broadside on the socially sanctioned butchery of women and girls in Pakistan. . . . Hanif is Andrea Dworkin-earnest on the topic of violence against women, but everything else is fair game. He’s a punisher in the style of Yahweh, Flannery O’Connor and Muriel Spark. . . . At its best, Our Lady of Alice Bhatti isn’t amusing or entertaining or anything so mealy-mouthed. It’s belly-laugh-inducing, Sam Lipsyte funny. ‘Fawlty Towers’ funny. . . . But of course, there’s something deadly serious at work too. . . . Hanif is unflinching on the abuse of women and religious minorities. But the world of Alice Bhatti is too rangy, too much its own perfectly realized universe to be stunted into stale allegory. It’s a rowdy piece of art; its concerns are local and universal. We’re all implicated.” —Parul Sehgal, New York Times Book Review
“A novel unafraid to explore the contradictions of modern Pakistan with a wry, satirical bent, yet full of earnest love for its captivating protagonist. . . . The comedic tone Hanif uses throughout much of the book may seem incongruous with the sad reality of life in a misogynistic culture for women like Alice, but it’s never diminishing. Alice is not defined by these events–she endures them, survives them, and by relying on her deep, inner strength, manages to ultimately transcend tragedy. Our Lady of Alice Bhatti pulls no punches, and the entertaining highs make the doleful lows hit even harder.” —Michael Patrick Brady, Boston Globe
“Raw and alive. . . . With Our Lady of Alice Bhatti, Mohammed Hanif is the first to devote an entire novel to the downtrodden [of Pakistan]. In it, grim headlines and social problems give way to an improbable radiance. It’s an enthralling successor to his first novel. . . . A savage chronicle somehow hilarious, a love story entrancingly doomed, and an acerbic free-of-cliché portrait of Pakistan’s largest city. Part of its genius lies in Hanif’s shrewd understanding that what makes the disadvantaged unforgettable is not their crushing predicaments but how they invent ways to cope with them. . . . Hanif at his best. A journalist for the BBC in Karachi, he has mined his country’s seemingly inexplicable news to uncover and deliver to English readers its difficult-to-convey and often uproarious roots.” —Lorraine Adams, Newsweek/Daily Beast