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The Black Coat

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It is the 1970s. After a bloody struggle, Bangladesh is an independent nation. But thousands are pouring into Dhaka from all over the country, looking for food and shelter. Amongst them is Nur Hussain, an uneducated young man from a remote village, who is only good at mimicking a famous speech of the prime minister’s. He turns up at journalist Khaleque Biswas’s doorstep, seeking employment. He is initially a burden for Khaleque, but then Khaleque, who has recently lost his job, has the idea of turning Nur into a fake Sheikh Mujib. With the blessings of the political establishment, he starts cashing in on the nationalist fervour of the city’s poorest. But even as the money rolls in, the tension between the two men increases and reaches a violent climax when, after watching the severity of the famine of 1974, Nur refuses to stick to the script.

240 pages, Hardcover

First published May 15, 2013

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About the author

Neamat Imam

1 book14 followers
Neamat Imam is a Bangladeshi author based in Canada. His first novel, The Black Coat, was first published by Penguin Books India in 2013. It was published in 2015 by Periscope Books in Britain. It is a dystopian portrait of Bangladesh under Prime Minister Sheikh Mujib and a "dark political satire fuelled by anger and absurdist humour" (Independent). In a review, Outlook India called the novel "an extraordinary book ... a fine work of fiction." The Sunday Guardian said it was "destined to be a future classic."

Reviews:

"Dark political satire fuelled by anger and absurdist humour." - The Independent, UK
"...one of the best to come out of the subcontinent in the recent past." - Financial Express
"A powerful fictional revisiting of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's troubled legacy in Bangladesh" - Mint
"...the book that slays Sheikh Mujib..." - Radio Canada
"The Black Coat will be used -- again and again -- as the gold standard for any book which seeks to engage with South Asian politics or history." - The Sunday Guardian
"...a tragic tale of power, pretence, idealism and greed..." - Deccan Herald
"...a poignant political tale... Imam has shown a lot of courage in dealing with one of the most tumultuous and controversial phases of independent Bangladesh's history." - The Daily Star
"...pure satire, written with such disarming earnestness that one might neglect to shake it down and dissect its numerous layers." - Asian Review of Books

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Displaying 1 - 29 of 29 reviews
Profile Image for Meema.
116 reviews8 followers
May 17, 2019
In the guise of politics , it is one man's personal philosophical battle. While the premise and the starting of this historical fiction was very good, sadly the writing slowly gets sloppier up to the point where it becomes excruciating. At the beginning I was genuinely intrigued by the lead characters but by the middle of the book they become incomprehensible and I could not care less for any of them. Kudos to the writer for having chosen a subject which is generally considered taboo,better-forgotten and sensitive. I will also recommend this book over Tahmima Anam's Golden Age anyday.
Profile Image for Meem Arafat Manab.
371 reviews149 followers
January 25, 2019
পটেনশিয়ালের শ্রাদ্ধ এই বই জুড়ে। চমৎকার কয়েকটা দৃশ্য, মূল চরিত্রটা তো চরিত্রের পোয়াবারো, কিন্তু লেখা একেবারেই বাজে হইছে, আর বইয়ের গল্পটা হয়া গেছে দোআঁশলা। এইরকম হতাশাজনক ফিনালে সম্পাদকের চোখ এড়ায়ে গেছে, লেখার কিছু অংশ বোঝা যায় না, সেগুলিও কোনো না কোনোভাবে তার নজর এড়ায়ে গেছে। হয়তো বাংলায় লিখলে ভালো করতেন ইনি, কানাডায় বসবাস করলেই ইংরেজী চমৎকার হবে, এমন কোনো কথা তো নাই।
টপিক দুর্দান্ত, রুশদীর মুখে ছুড়ে দেয়ার মতো। একজন লোক, যে আপনার নেতার ভাষণ বিক্রি করে খাচ্ছে। কিন্তু, ঐ যে বললাম, লেখা (যেমন এক জায়গায় এক চরিত্রের বর্ণনা, 'হি ওয়াজ এ অডিও-কাইন্যাস্থেটিক লার্নার'), লেখা ওটাকে বুমেরাং বানায়ে রুশদীর মুখ থেকে আমাদের মুখে নিয়ে আসবে। প্রথম অ্যান্টি-মুজিব লিটারেচারটা আরেকটু ভালো হইলে শান্তি পাইতাম।

অভিন্ন ঘৃণা সত্ত্বেও বইটারে ভালো বলা যাচ্ছে না। আইডিওলজি জায়গায় জায়গায় ভয়ঙ্করভাবে মিলে যাওয়া সত্ত্বেও। আরে ভাই, আর্ট বলে ���ো কিছু আছে, না?
(জহির ভাইকে ধন্যবাদ)
Profile Image for Tariqul Ponir.
52 reviews18 followers
December 4, 2013
What to say about a book that says in its cover, "A dark dystopian portrait of Bangladesh under Prime Minister Sheikh Mujib"?
The thing to learn from this line is that there is a very high probability of getting hurt if you are a Sheikh Mujib fan but may find it intensely pleasing if you psyche is the other way around. Now that I've read it I have a lot of question about the authenticity of some of the data I came to know. Let me see the book through the eye of a foreigner, the way I read books about Cold War, Second World War, Vietnam War, Iraq War; mostly written by an American writer. Although the incidents I mentioned are all wars, this book is not about Bangladesh Liberation War but about the events that followed the war.
The newly born nation has formed its government almost one year after the liberation. But but a famine struck the country before every sector of the administrator became stable. According to the legends the words that Mujib says, "After the liberation I'm left with a bunch of thieves." The famine takes a lot of life. And amidst of this we get a story of a newly unemployed journalist, a young boy who came to capital to find work. There is another major character named 'Moina Mia' who is the representative of the Political Leaders of that time.
The story is well written in many short sentences including a lot of lectures about what everyone's duty in the country is. It is described in the first person view of the journalist Khaleq Biswas who upon struck with unemployment uses the silent, carefree boy Nur Hossain to create a fake Sheikh Mujub and exploits people's admiration about Sheikh Mujib. But as the story progressed the prime minister Sheikh Mujib becomes more and more notorious among the public for his wrong decisions. And the journalist's protegé begin to have a say of his own and being the person 'nothing to loose', his thoughts show some fiery explosions, which in turn make the relation between the journalist and the boy very complicated.
The character Moina Mia a Member of Parliament is the typical politician of the south asia. He is more concerned about the leader's fame than the well being of the people. He spends enough money to print enough copies of 'Sheikh Mujib - OUR PROTECTOR' so that everyone in the proximity can have five copies of it, than spending the money for providing food for the starving people. And uses Militia to a great extent. His working force is described who were dumb and became more dumber as the party sucked intelligence out of them.
One thing I must mention, that the author has spent enough time and word to justify each action of every character and didn't leave it to the reader. Even the seemingly fraud journalist will make sense at times. And this cheat, even though changes his opinion time to time, will convince you that he is right.
The prime minister appears only one time in the whole novel. And he is portrayed as the person who loves his people and he should not be asked any questions. Even though at later part we see how unsatisfied the people were. And the small number of books of Bangladeshi writes that I've read, I found that, they all had satisfying conclusion. This book is not an exception to that. The conclusion is satisfying as well as shocking, the poor perishes, the middle class loathes itself, and the upper class gets away. A spot on ending.
Now that I've said that, as a Bangladeshi I doubt some aspects. The writer informed that only 0.3 million people died in the war. But I believe it is 3 million. I have a lot of other questions, but let them slide.
Profile Image for Emma Griffiths.
94 reviews
September 14, 2015
I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway and picked it up knowing absolutely nothing about Bangladesh or it's Political history.

The book is about a charismatic leader who takes control of a state. However, Once in power, We realise that he has no intention to act in the interest of the people that he is supposed to be representing. This is something that is all too familiar in the world of politics. Therefore, I found the story all too easy to relate to.

This is an extremely haunting tale, That I would certainly recommend to anyone. It has furthered my interest to find more out about Bangledesh and it's history.
770 reviews122 followers
October 24, 2018
What an intriguing read! This parody and/or morality tale critiques the "father of Bangladesh." I thought I had known a good amount about Bangladesh and the war for its independence but I appreciated reading this book to stretch or revise some notions I had held.

The book creates an innovative tool or springboard from which to reveal some history. As I read this, the story crept up slowly and then grabbed me. Its hold was solid and assured. The writing is confident and very clever. I would definitely read other works by this author and I hope he is working on something, several somethings.
Profile Image for Kadri.
357 reviews52 followers
February 5, 2016
After finishing reading this book I couldn't find anything to say about it - it seemed surreal and crazy and violent and then suddenly everything calms down. It is fascinating what is going on in the book, and it's very well written, and I'll be reading it again and will write a longer review after I've done so.
Profile Image for Shaz.
458 reviews
January 5, 2022
I quite enjoyed this book. It follows a man, Khaleque, who sort of doesn't believe in anything in a time where nationalism and patriotism are at a high in Bangladesh as it gained independence from Pakistan. It's a story about how Khaleque exploits the faith and misfortune of those around him for personal gain and the consequences of that.

We see this protagonist deliberate on the issues he initially doesn't care much about, including poverty, famine, and the saint-like veneration given to the Prime Minister, Sheikh Mujib.

Mujib is presented as a distant leader; though he is leading the country, he is seemingly turning a blind eye to the rampant poverty and famine plaguing Bangladesh at the time. I thought it was interesting that Khaleque's relationship with Sheikh Mujib sort of reflected this; despite being an Awami League member, Khaleque has no real idea of who Sheikh Mujib is. Because of this, this book felt like much more of a character study of Khaleque and though it's set against an intense political climate, involving a political leader, it's less of a political book than I had expected.

Khaleque's exploitation of the poor came in the form of creating a sort of tribute figure of Sheikh Mujib using a man, Nur, as the Mujib figure. This book also explores Nur's disillusionment with Mujib as well as his loss of respect for Khaleque.

Nur's speech is a strong symbol in this book. He uses his speech to achieve various things, from inspiring to protesting to preaching to hatred.

Overall, I liked it.
Profile Image for eisha sarkar.
48 reviews
April 30, 2022
An eye-opening historical fiction

Rarely have I come across historical fiction set in 1970s Bangladesh. The new country suffered while the old ones gradually forgot about it after its Liberation War in 1971. From the very brief readings about the war in India, I had always believed Sheikh Mujibur Rehman to be a Bhagat Singh-like extremely charismatic and brave revolutionary figure. To find him portrayed in negative light after he became the head of the country and slowly turning dictator as people starved to death during a famine is an eye-opener. I have found The Black Coat, dark and miserable and been almost on the verge of giving up because of the bleakness portrayed. But I egged myself on, to finish it. I only had to read it. Many Bangladeshis have had to live it. The author, Neamat Imam, has made his point well.
Profile Image for Khalid Mahbub.
24 reviews11 followers
November 6, 2020
A book that describes the psyche of all traumatized post-colonial nations coming to terms with its own pitiful existence. A fiction more real than all the crafted history of failed dictatorships brutally struggling to survive. A truth so raw one cannot understand it unless one lives through it. Kudos to Imam Neamat. You have given future generations the answer that questions all of this madness. And from it the solution that shall be self-evident.
59 reviews
January 18, 2020
a psychological narrative of post-independence bangladeshi politics. the personal as political.

although i was very much intrigued by the trajectory of Khaleque and Nur both as individuals and within their relationship, the lack of place and at times plot left me wanting for more. it was a slow read and the dialogue, too, felt burdensome.
Profile Image for Paul Williams.
35 reviews2 followers
July 2, 2017
It meanders but it's an interesting world to meander in. Politics is nearly depoliticized - treated like a job in a place and time where jobs are scarce. (Also on chapters.ca)
18 reviews
May 18, 2022
DNF. Found it difficult to get into the story, not for me.
Profile Image for Isha.
18 reviews11 followers
December 25, 2016
A promising plot but the writing left much to be desired.
Profile Image for David Grieve.
367 reviews4 followers
December 27, 2016
The story revolves around the birth of Bangladesh as a nation and its first leader, Sheik Mujib. It is told through the eyes of a journalist (Biswas) who loses his job on the Freedom Fighter newspaper and has to find another way of making money in an increasingly desperate country.

The story gets progressively more surreal as Biswas takes in Nur Hussain and finds a truly bizarre line of work for them to make money. His relationship with Nur is the core of the story as it ebbs and flows as does his sympathy for the ever more totalitarian government.

The story is described as dystopian and it is that. It was very enjoyable and well written and covered a period of history I knew nothing about. The characters are, without exception, unlikeable; although it takes a while to realise this in some cases. It is not an easy read but is worth sticking with.
13 reviews
January 6, 2014
Short Version: I would rate this story between 3 and half to four stars. It is a political story and written in the first person. It may appeal to a lot of people who love politics.

Long Version: I would rate this story between 3 and half to four stars. The writing while overall good has some strange formatting issues that I suppose could be a style choice but I have never seen it before. The first paragraph of every chapter isn't indented, which seems strange. Another thing I personally don't like is that the book is in first person, I just never cared for first person books.

Now I don't want people to think I'm slamming this book. Putting the formatting and writing style aside, the author did a great job on his research and the hard work he put into the story. Personally i know next to nothing about Bangladesh or its history so in that regard this book can help to enlighten readers on its dark history.

As for the story itself, it really wasn't my kind of book. Politics just aren't my thing. However, like with all writing, what is boring to me is amazing and great to someone else. So I know this story will appeal to a lot of people.
Profile Image for Big .
6 reviews1 follower
November 18, 2013
Gives a general idea into how Mujib ran his government; true chilling facts. If you are reading the book for the sake of knowing the facts only, The entire book is summarized in the last three chapters! And it only focuses on the 1974 famine history, which is a taboo subject even among the current opposition parties. Not much can be found about the atrocities of "Rokkhi Bahini"

For the fictional part, I found some of the dialogues over dramatic; and sometimes the characters didn't even sound Bangladeshi! The protagonist was immature and overly emotional as usual. I also hoped that the author could describe the environment of Dhaka city a bit more elaborately, and the role of citizens and opposition parties during famine. Even the neighborhood of Khaled wasn't vividly described. Overall, the general impression i got was that the author didn't do much research into this period of time and executed a half-hearted attempt into making this book, where the idea is brilliant, but the finishing is poorly done.
September 21, 2013
Just finished this. Amazing. The protagonist is a journalist, who utilizes his protege to earn money during the time of a devastating famine in Bangladesh. The book is like a fable. It is absolutely Orwellian. Politics is at its core, but politics is not the main issue; it is only the outer shell. Inside politics there is a world of deception and fraud, repression and regret. Not many novels I know of have mixed the public with the private so skillfully.

Imam writes in small sentences. His prose if dispassionate. He maintains a considerable distance from the story he writes, which is why I liked it most.

A serious piece of literature.
Profile Image for Aurnab Arc.
1 review2 followers
Currently reading
October 6, 2013
Obviously, no one can do that for you or make you know what you don't want to know. You must exercise your free will to do so. No one can make you accountable for your thoughts or make you reason through this explanation for you. You've got to think about it on your own, and discern in your own soul how this explanation checks out. If it has the ring of true to it, take it as your guide.Since the dawn of representation we are in an era of text. However we could not but forget the foggy and smoggy time of Bakshal. Really wonderful experience for me to read such book like [The Black Coat]which one is full of information.
2 reviews
October 3, 2013
I think it's the 1st time that a writer has taken an anarchist and analytic approach on our history of post 70's. In the present political context of Bangladesh, it is a must read for the ones that think about the future of this country. The style is unique and reflects he has successfully mastered the art of projecting words in his own way. About the content, I have to say it was royally explosive in the beginning, but I felt rewarded as I went on. It is a political thriller that we always needed!
Profile Image for Shayda Dastgir.
38 reviews3 followers
November 14, 2013
The book was a riveting read, but not sure it should necessarily be relied on as a credible source of facts: case in point: it claims that 1.5 million died in the famine, vs less than 300,000 that were killed in the 1971 liberation war. However, the most often fatality count for the war is 3 million.

Plot was extremely engaging, but the language in some bits left something to be desired, and a few of the dialogues were a tad melodramatic for my liking.
Profile Image for Ram.
20 reviews43 followers
June 13, 2015
Passion and idealism jump out of the pages of Neamat Imam's dark satire on a new born nation. The fall of any great leader is but the denouement of his rise. A journalist fighting the unholy trinity of ambition, idealism and the will to survive discovers the reality about the illusion of freedom. Brilliantly done!
Profile Image for Rubaiat.
18 reviews2 followers
October 7, 2013
Started off strong, and kept that pace and intensity till the middle, with very powerful metaphors that reflect certain aspects of that period of history. Though it ends well too, reading the latter half of the book was tiresome.
33 reviews1 follower
July 29, 2015
Thankyou to the publisher and goodreads for the book for the chance to read this book
This is a very well written book and delves into issues involving deception it's much more than a political book
I would recommended this book to family and friends
A fantastic 4 stars
Thankyou
Profile Image for Rubayya.
13 reviews9 followers
December 15, 2020
A fascinating portrait of patriotic internal struggle in a country born out of civil war.
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