Mohammed Hanif’s second novel marks a change of scene and tone from his debut, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, about Zia-ul-Haq’s fatal air crash. Here we have a mixture of love story and well-observed description of Karachi life. Corrupt police shenanigans and interfaith dialogue share a bed with the inpatients of the Sacred Heart Hospital for All Ailments, a Catholic public infirmary packed to bursting with anyone too poor to afford private health care. Alice Bhatti, the daughter of a Catholic street sweeper, manages to secure a job as a nurse at the Sacred, despite the disapproval of certain Muslim doctors and the fact that she has just spent fourteen months in prison for causing grievous bodily harm to a leading surgeon. In the course of the novel she goes from nurse to bride to fugitive wife and surrogate mother.
Alice’s father, Joseph Bhatti, is an expert on all matters sewage, who devotes his spare time to making wooden crosses and curing stomach ulcers by reciting Islamic texts. Alice’s admirer, Teddy Butt, was ‘Junior Mr Faisalabad’, and now splits his time between amateur police work, waxing his body hair and