Tahmima Anam — A Golden Age (2007)
Setting: Bangladesh’s 1971 War of Independence
What it’s about: A beautifully paced story of a widow in war, who starts the story trying to recover her children taken away by her late husband’s family, but who the reader watches become stronger and more confident through every ordeal she goes through.
Through her we see brutal scenes of war, with the plight of refugees particularly current.
Anam with compassion but also brutal honesty about the protagonist and about war itself. The scenes of violence resonate because they are interspersed with intimate descriptions of daily life — preparing meals and household chores:
“From Mrs Chowdhury’s roof, Sohail and Lieutenant Sabeer watched the fires of the lit-up city. Suddenly they heard everything: the killing of small children, the slow movement of clouds, the death of women, the sigh of fleeing birds, the rush of blood on the pavements.”
It’s also a book about home – specifically, her home: a home that keeps family together, a sanctuary against the horrors on the street and city beyond, a home that shelters refugees, and later rebels and their weapons, a home that must be abandoned:
She wondered if it made her a refugee, this train, this distance, the sheets on the furniture…
You’ll like this if you liked: Half of a Yellow Sun or Colm Toibin.
The best book from Bangladesh? Yes. I would like to pick something more obscure, but it’s the most famous Bangladeshi book of recent years for a good reason. However, there are several classic and emerging writers worth checking out, such as K. Anis Ahmed’s satire of a dictatorship run by a committee of NGOs — The World in My Hands.
Rating: *** (A Must Read — and more than once because of its style and subject matter)