My review of Our Lady of Alice Bhatti by Mohammed Hanif ran today in the Boston Globe.
Hanif’s protagonist, the strong-willed, vibrant Alice Bhatti is almost too incandescent to bear. At times, her portrayal strains credulity, edges slightly toward a Pakistani version of the manic pixie dream girl, but ultimately I was won over by the character and by Hanif’s lovely depiction of her. She’s irresistible—which is her biggest problem. The book follows Alice as she starts her job as a junior nurse at Karachi’s Sacred Heart Hospital, the bloody, chaotic emergency ward serving as a microcosm of bloody, chaotic Pakistan. Alice must fend off the interest and attacks of the men who surround her, always fighting against the current of her culture’s dismissive or degrading treatment of women.
Hanif approaches these touchy subjects with an irreverence that makes them palatable. I admit there were times when I felt his attempts to comment on the persistent male gaze Alice is subjected to veered a little to close to the kind of objectification he ostensibly was criticizing. But ultimately I believed in his commitment to the feminist theme, and the book’s ending is sincerely emotional, a truly heart-rending, beautiful finish.