Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review
LA Sherman's Bengali Girl's Don't is one of the best books I've read t...moreDisclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review
LA Sherman's Bengali Girl's Don't is one of the best books I've read this year. It's beautiful, lyrical and full of fantastic insight into the experience of Muslim children raised in Western societies. Sherman's writing is full of depth and beauty, pulling us into the world of the main character: Luky. I am reminded of What the Body Remembers by Shauna Singh Baldwin for it's raw intimacy and multi-generational/cultural storyline.
Bengali Girl's Don't is written in third person memoir style and the first half of it is exquisite, full of details from Bangladeshi life that resonate with the reader no matter your personal cultural history. Rahman and Sunia (Luky's parents) live through the revolution and partition of Bengladesh from Pakistan. The personal and political details included in the story make it rich and vibrant. An absolute joy to read.
Rahman and Sunia take their sons (I'm not sure how many, as one of them inexplicably seemed to have two names: Pilton and Saqir) and daughter to England, where Sunia gives birth to a number of daughters. Rahman and Sunia try desperately to raise their children as proper Muslims and Bengalis In their own way it's clear their intentions are good and they wish good things for their children. Cultural standards, aspirations for popularity and the crushing pressure of being the eldest daughter push Luky to a breaking point. Desperate for freedom and individuality, she seeks a reprieve from her parents strictness and abuse in a series of ill fated romantic entanglements. Finally, at only 15, her parents take her to Bangladesh where she is manipulated into an arranged marriage.
Unfortunately it doesn't seem that Sherman invested in an editor or had much outside help with this project, because despite vast amounts of raw talent much of this book is a hot mess. For example, there's a chapter where Luky's younger sister Salena is kidnapped from their home by Jamaican men, but then in the next chapter Salena is in the living room and no mention of the incident is ever made again.
I'm also unclear about the end of the book. It appears that Luky and her husband Hash'nuq leave Bengladesh for America, although this part of the book becomes so disjoined and confessional, its difficult to wade through the facts.
In addition to that, there's also the issue of inconsistent tense and writing style changes. Most of the book is in third person, however, periodically, and without warning, the reader is thrust into first person asides. It seemed at first that these asides were always placed in italics, but by the end of the book the regular prose had shifted, inexplicably, to first person. Also, there are what appear to be transcripts from conversation with a therapist interspersed in the text and even theatre style dialogue without descriptions for no apparent reason.
The use of these conventions is interesting and not necessarily a problem. I am reminded of Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min and how the book is separated by font and italics between letters, fiction and biographical narrative. With proper editing and story construction, Sherman's desire to write in this way could be a tremendous asset. It gives the book an unexpected depth that pulls the reader in further. Unfortunately, as it stands the reader is thrust into these segments with no warning, mid chapter and often without context.
Sherman's stream of consciousness writing is a delight to read and I sat, mesmerised by the story unfolding before me. Despite problems with the manuscript which, in a lesser book, would have me crying foul, I read the entire thing (that's 426 pages) in one sitting. As much as I recommend this book, and I do, I have to warn readers to not get your hopes too high for a final product. This is a brilliant draft of a potentially world class book. I only hope LA Serman takes the time to massage it into the literature it deserves to be.(less)