A worldwide pandemic that hurled the publishing industry into a crisis was a damaging blow to Hoori Noorani’s small, Karachi-based independent Urdu press, Maktaba-e-Danyal, which focuses on publishing progressive fiction, non-fiction, and poetry with a special emphasis on books in translation. But it wasn’t even the biggest crisis they faced in 2020.

On the night of January, Hoori Noorani got a call from her manager, who informed her that the offices of Maktaba-e-Danyal were raided by men claiming to be from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, an important institution of the military. The men confiscated about 260 copies of Kashif Raza’s Urdu translation of Muhammad Hanif’s English novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes. They also wanted to get the list of booksellers who had already stocked the book. In the next few days, the book disappeared from bookshops. It’s impossible to buy it anywhere today.

Hanif’s novel was originally released in English by a London publishing house in 2008 to wide acclaim. Following the satirical tradition of Latin American novels about dictators, Hanif’s novel depicts the last days of the military dictator, Zia-ul-Haq. The book includes comical portrayals of the dictator and also features queer characters. It was longlisted for the Man Booker and won the Commonwealth...

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