Red Birds by Mohammed Hanif

Feb 28, 2019

I decided to purchase Red Birds because it was listed in The Hindu’s 2018 top ten fiction books. In addition, I wanted to read Mohammed Hanif, a known author and a journalist, with published works in prominent papers like The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Daily Telegraph.  However, it was an interesting experience to read the novel, if you can call it that.

The story is set in a hypothetical desert in some Muslim country that the US enjoys bombing.  The setup is very strong. Major Ellie, a US air force pilot comes to bomb a camp but crashes in a desert close by. Before the merciless desert finishes him, Ellie is saved by ‘Momo’, a teenage boy from the camp, who came looking for ‘Mutt’, his injured dog.  The story is described with three separate points of view of these three characters, with rotating chapters accorded to each.  It revolves around the camp and the deserted Hanger on its outskirts, that was once used by the US Air Force personnel.  Momo has a keen interest in the Hanger because his older-brother Ali was hired in the Hanger to help ‘them’ identify targets and had, like the numerous boys from the camp, disappeared. Mohammed Hanif provides a humorous depiction of both the working of the US Air Force as well as that of the futility of the ‘Wars’ waged around the world.  He is a master of metaphors and if you like metaphors, this book should make to the top of your to-read books.  Personally, the stories that keep me engaged are the ones that move at a reasonable pace, and unfortunately, the Red Birds’ story did not.  Every scene described thrice, in three separate chapters from the perspectives of the three characters, killed the tempo for me.  The story gets really bizarre towards the end when the camp is brought back to life by the ghosts of the perished.  Without any particular reason, Major Ellie’s wife shows up in the company of the ghosts of the Hanger.

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