Red Birds by Mohammed Hanif review – a thrilling satire of US foreign policy

The ugliness of war is brilliantly captured in this wildly original novel narrated by a teenage refugee and a philosopher-dog

“When I look up, I see people cashing in. I don’t see heaven or saints or angels. I see people cashing in on every decent impulse and every human tragedy.” So says John Yossarian, the pilot protagonist of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, a work to which Mohammed Hanif’s Man Booker-longlisted first novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, was widely compared. Like Heller, British-Pakistani Hanif is a pilot turned satirist; but it’s his third novel, Red Birds, that is the closest relative to Heller’s classic satire of the second world war.

Major Ellie is a US air force bombardier who starts out eager to scorch some “goat-fuckers” in an unnamed Middle Eastern country. His laser-guided bombs are labelled “YES”, and “OH YESS”. “There is a war on,” his ...