Our Lady of Alice Bhatti

Mohammed Hanif. Knopf, $25.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-307-95831-0
Absurdity and chaos reign in rising Pakistani author Hanif’s rowdy fusion of social commentary and curiously bloody love story. Being female, Catholic, and untouchable makes nurse Alice Bhatti a minority three times over in Pakistan, where “most of life’s arguments [are] settled by doing various things to a woman’s body.” Impudent, headstrong, and possibly gifted with her father’s healing touch, Alice has risen out of the Christian slum, no small feat when most Catholic untouchables are sweepers. At the Sacred Heart Hospital for All Ailments, Alice punishes those who would harm her, wielding a razor with the same nonchalance that the doctors wield stethoscopes; she dispatches one would-be rapist with blood-splattering ease. The perpetrators are often those who “wouldn’t drink from a tap that she has touched [but] have no problem casually poking their elbows into her breast.” Her violence attracts Teddy Butt, a weightlifter and underling in the Karachi police, and soon Alice must navigate the surprising parameters of an inter-religious and inter-caste marriage. In this amusing novel, Hanif (A Case of Exploding Mangoes) 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. Agent: Clare Alexander, Aitken Alexander Associates. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/19/2012
Release date: 05/29/2012
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