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Our Lady of Alice Bhatti, by Mohammed Haine.

August 20, 2014

Our Lady of Alice Bhatti, by Mohammed Haine.  Vintage (2013), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 256 pages.

A humorous, sensitive novel about a Christian woman from the slums of Karachi, Pakistan, who works in a failing hospital and becomes involved with a minor crook.

Mohammed Haine is a Pakistani who grew up in that country and now is an international journalist there. His writing is rowdy, irreverent, and comic as he describes the poverty stricken people of Karachi. His writing conveys a sense that we must laugh over the world he depicts, or we will cry.

Haine’s story centers around Alice Bhatti, a tough young woman with an angry temper and a caring heart. She has much going against her. A Roman Catholic of Hindu descent, she lives and works surrounded by Muslims. Her father is an untouchable who cleans sewers and cures stomach problems with an Islamic ritual. Much of the book revolves around her job at the Sacred Heart Hospital for All Ailments, a chaotic institution that tries to deny its Catholic identity. She works with a cluster of other unique and colorful individuals. When a baby given up as dead comes to life, she is viewed as a miracle worker. When a “police tout” falls madly in love with her, her life gets even more complicated and violent.

I read this book because I had read that Haine was a male writer able to write sensitively about women. Maybe. Neither his female nor male characters are fully developed, and they all provide comedy rather than depth. He is, however, sensitive to women’s problems and vulnerabilities. Alice’s experiences and those of other women she has seen at the hospital reveal an appreciation of the particular ways in which women suffer. Yet Haine is never grim even in describing the tragedies of their lives.

I recommend this book to readers with a high tolerance for violence and irreverence who like stories about the chaotic lives of slum dwellers. Those who can laugh at human foibles.  This book was fun, but nowhere near as moving as Kathrine Boo’s depiction of similar people in Mumbai in her fine non-fiction book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers. See my review.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 20, 2014 6:25 pm

    I read some of Hanif’s stories in A Case of Exploding Mangoes and I wasn’t really sold on them either. Might have been the violence, I’m afraid I can’t remember for sure.

  2. August 25, 2014 10:02 pm

    I guess I have a high tolerance for irreverence because I quite liked this one. Plus for all its magical sounding moments, it accurately portrays life for a young minority woman in South Asia.

  3. August 29, 2014 5:41 pm

    Thanks for your comment. It was the violence that got to me more than the irreverence. I hate to think of how many other women face problems like the ones described here.

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