A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam

Having loved Anam’s second book, ‘The Good Muslim’, I was on the lookout for her first book – ‘The Golden Age’. Although The Good Muslim was a sequel, I had no trouble following the story line, and I hoped that The Golden Age wouldn’t be rendered redundant by the fact that I had already read the sequel.

GoldenAge

I needn’t have worried. It is East Pakistan in 1971. Rehana Haque has just about started to breathe easy. Her two children, Sohail and Maya, who she struggled to keep with her and bring up, after she was widowed, have grown up and are in university. She now feels secure and comfortable, she has kept her children safe. The country is in the brink of a civil war. East Pakistan is fighting for independence and her children, she realizes, are right in the middle of it all. Not for them, the everyday worries of safety and security. Her sense of security vanishes overnight.

The life that she carefully tried to preserve, carefully nurtured, is all in pieces. Political upheavals seem to be mirrored in personal upheavals. Things which they took for granted are suddenly questioned.

While the sequel was largely about Maya and Sohail. The Golden Age, I would say, is mainly about Rehana. It is her story. Her struggles, her choices, and her life. Even when her choices seem wrong, it is difficult to judge her because her circumstances seem so tough on her. The ties that bind a mother to her children, and the extents to which people are forced to go because of their circumstances. Rehana finds herself part of a war, an upheaval that she wanted no part of, but is powerless to do anything about it.

I particularly liked the way the author has woven political incidents and upheavals into the story. Rehana’s life in East Pakistan before it became Bangladesh is a window to life in East Pakistan and the way it all changed. Hindus who considered it their homeland, suddenly realized that they had to run for their lives. When suddenly everybody has to choose sides, and hope that they have chosen the right side. While the older generation struggles with the choices, the younger generation is the one with the spirit to fight for what they consider their right. I can’t imagine what it must be to live through a war like this, but can only guess, that despite the tremendous losses, what they gained must be so very precious. A tale of love, heart-break, strife and hope.

A wonderful book. A book which I would recommend to everybody who likes books set in political situations and history. I especially love books of this sort, as it gives me an insight to how everyday life gets changed irrevocably by political decisions and political situations.

Edited to add: Title corrected – all thanks to Saks 🙂

The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam

Another goodreads reco. I’ve said it before, I love the recommendations section of Goodreads.

GoodMuslim

The Good Muslim is a sequel to ‘The Golden Age’, and that is on my list to read. Set in independent Bangladesh, in the 80s, the book revolves around Maya Haque and her family. Maya, a medical doctor, has been away from her home for many years – the years following Bangladesh’s independence. She returns home to her mother and brother and realizes that her brother has completely changed. Before the war, Maya had been a revolutionary and she and her brother had been inseparable. The war had impacted both of them in very different ways. Maya continued to be a revolutionary, while her brother Sohail, had turned to religion. Both of them felt the need to atone for what they did during the war, but both chose different means.

Returning to Dhaka, Maya realizes that things have changed, much more than she would have imagined. She finds that her views and her independence is no longer considered good, in a society that was getting rigid by the day, just like her brother. She forms a close bond with her motherless, nephew, Zaid. Zaid, left alone, by his father, barring religious instructions, was growing up wild. She realizes that her brother has no time or interest in anything except religion, not even for his little child. Maya finds ways of engaging with the little boy, sometimes angering his father.

The story shifts between 1977 and 1984, giving us an insight into what Maya and Sohail went through. Maya doesn’t let her brother’s beliefs stop her. She writes about her experiences and refuses to be cowed down by the atmosphere of fear and unease that seems to be prevalent in Dhaka. Maya’s mother’s dilemma and ways of dealing with the situation opens up another view of the situation. A mother torn between two children, both right in their own ways.

It’s a heart-wrenching tale of a family, mirroring that of a young nation, caught in the crossroads, confused and traumatized. While I empathized with Maya’s character, I found it difficult to empathize with Sohail. Especially his neglect of his own little son. His turning a blind eye to things which should have been obvious to any parent. The book, in a way, shows how easy it is for people to change, to take up a path entirely different from what they were, when circumstances test you, when you lose hope in things that you trusted and believed in. Again a story which touched me, and one that will stay with me.

I would recommend the book to anybody who likes books with a political background – I love books of this sort. It gives me an insight which just reading about political unrest doesn’t. Books that show you the human side of every uprising, of every country liberated, of every political movement.