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A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam
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Jun 15, 2012

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bookshelves: india, subcontinent

Until the end of 1971, Bangladesh, inhabited mainly by Bengalis, was known as ‘East Pakistan’. West Pakistan, now all that remains of Pakistan is, and was inhabited by a Punjabi majority. In 1970, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (‘Mujib’,a Bengali) and his party won the parliamentary elections. Mujib was prevented from taking office by President General Yahya Khan, of West Pakistan, who along with many of his fellow Punjabis and Pathans held the Bengalis in low regard. He arrested Mujib in early 1971 and launched a vicious military assault on East Pakistan. Its aim was to decimate the Bengali population. During this operation, about a million East Pakistanis fled to neighbouring India and anything between 30,000 and 3,000,000 East Pakistanis were massacred. Had it not been for the intervention of Indian armed forces, many more would have been killed. By the end of 1971, Yahya’s forces were defeated; Mujib was released, and soon after this East Pakistan divorced itself from West Pakistan and the republic of Bangladesh was born.

Tahmima Anam, the author of A Golden Age was born in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, 4 years after the end of the Bangaldeshi’s struggle against Yahya Khan's forces of West Pakistan. Yet, her novel which is set mainly in Dhaka during 1971 gave me the feeling that she had been an eye-witness of those troubled times.

The main character in the book is the widowed Rehana, a non-Bengali who lives in Dhaka. Both of her children become involved in the struggle against Yahya’s forces. She tries to maintain her home as things gradually deteriorate all around her and her children become ever more deeply embroiled in the resistance to the murderous thugs (including her brother-in-law whose home was in West Pakistan), who had invaded their country. At first, I was lulled into thinking that Rehana was an innocent in a sea of turmoil, but as the tale unwinds, I learned that she also harboured secrets, some of which had nothing to do with the invasion of Yahya’s forces.

The novel is beautifully written. Ms Anam gently creates the atmosphere of terror that was developing in Dhaka by subtle allusions to it. She resists the temptation to dwell on graphic descriptions of the atrocities performed by Yahya’s forces to suppress the Bengalis in order to ‘restore order’. And when, on occasion, she does describe such atrocities, she says only sufficient to allow the reader’s imagination to do the rest.

A Golden Age is laced with transliterations of Bangla and Urdu words, which will be understood by those familiar with the sub-continent, but may puzzle readers who are not. There is no glossary because Ms Anam follows in the footsteps of Salman Rushdie, who led the way, according to what my wife learnt from a conversation with the author Shashi Deshpande, in dispensing with such things. However, the inclusion of unexplained vernacular terms does not detract from the enjoyment of a book, which I can strongly recommend, nor its comprehensibility.
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Reading Progress

June 15, 2012 – Started Reading
June 15, 2012 – Shelved
June 17, 2012 –
page 48
17.39%
June 20, 2012 –
page 102
36.96%
June 21, 2012 –
page 154
55.8%
June 23, 2012 –
page 226
81.88%
June 25, 2012 – Shelved as: india
June 25, 2012 – Shelved as: subcontinent
June 25, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey Keeten Interesting book to read during a time when the West is trying to figure out what type of relationship we will have with Pakistan going forward. Great review Adam!


Karishma This review helped me greatly with an essay I was writing on the book. thank you! :)


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