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In this blisteringly intelligent if structurally suspect novel, Hyder (1926–2007) explores Dhaka's turbulent 20th century and its violent transformations from a British-ruled Indian city to capital of an independent Bangladesh. The story centers on several students from Bengal's middle and wealthy classes, who in the late 1930s begin flirting with Marxism and dreams of freeing India from British rule. They are male and female, Muslim, Hindu, Christian, and atheist, and their divergent family histories showcase a blended culture, the epitome of which is a crucial romance between Deepali, a daring Hindu girl, and Rehan, a suave, London School of Economics–educated Muslim rebel. Though their radical political gestures are less convincing than their mutual attraction, it is their political ideology, much more than religion or class bias, that defines their generation and separates it from the previous one. The novel is rich with historical and socioeconomic analysis, and though Hyder has trouble integrating everything into a cohesive narrative, the resulting story--clumsy, illuminating, challenging, digressive--begs to be savored less for its moving parts than for its sociopolitical commentary and Hyder's love for Bengal.
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“A wonderful writer. She pairs enormous erudition with a careful eye to detail. Hers is one of the most important Indian voices of the 20th century.” (Amitav Ghosh)
“Qurratulain Hyder has a place alongside her exact contemporaries, Milan Kundera and Gabriel García Márquez, as one of the world’s major living authors.” (Times Literary Supplement)
“In confidently writing about India’s Buddhist and Hindu past, Hyder, a Muslim by birth, also provides an example of the secular literary culture of the subcontinent that has largely remained untainted by sectarian tensions.” (The New York Review of Books)