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 ...

Brother by David Chariandy review – a family on the edge of disaster

This is an exquisite Canadian novel about growing up in a poor immigrant neighbourhood of danger and futile dreams

“You can always do things to let the world know you’re not nobody. You never know when your break is coming,” says older brother Francis, advising Michael to relax, to be less clueless, less of a pussy. But Francis learns early on that his break isn’t coming, that it is dangerous to hope. Narrated by the adult Michael, Canadian author David Chariandy’s tightly crafted, gracefully elegiac second novel alternates between present-day and early 1980s Scarborough, a hopeless Toronto neighbourhood – nicknamed Scarlem and Scarbistan and Scar-bro – of poor immigrants and their disenfranchised children. The book is a study of the cultural divide between the displaced and their offspring. The parents have “useless foreign degrees” framed on the walls of their corner shops, advertising “back home tastes” on hand-painted signs. Their ...