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A Golden Age: A Novel Paperback – January 6, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The experiences of a woman drawn into the 1971 Bangladesh war for independence illuminate the conflict's wider resonances in Anam's impressive debut, the first installment in a proposed trilogy. Rehana Haque is a widow and university student in Dhaka with two children, 17-year-old daughter Maya and 19-year-old son Soheil. As she follows the daily patterns of domesticity—cooking, visiting the cemetery, marking religious holidays—she is only dimly aware of the growing political unrest until Pakistani tanks arrive and the fighting begins. Suddenly, Rehana's family is in peril and her children become involved in the rebellion. The elegantly understated restraint with which Anam recounts ensuing events gives credibility to Rehana's evolution from a devoted mother to a woman who allows her son's guerrilla comrades to bury guns in her backyard and who shelters a Bengali army major after he is wounded. The reader takes the emotional journey from atmospheric scenes of the marketplace to the mayhem of invasion, the ruin of the city, evidence of the rape and torture of Hindus and Bengali nationalists, and the stench and squalor of a refugee camp. Rehana's metamorphosis encapsulates her country's tragedy and makes for an immersive, wrenching narrative. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From The New Yorker
In this striking début novel, set in the nineteen-seventies, a young widow and her children become caught up in Bangladeshs war for independence. Rehana exists on the edge of things: a native of Calcutta, she was resettled in Dhaka by her husband and speaks Urdu, the language of West Pakistan, as fluently as Bengali, the language of restive East Pakistansoon to be Bangladesh. Her children, though, are fervent patriots, joining in student marches and making speeches; as rhetoric becomes revolution, her son joins a guerrilla group and her daughter decamps to Calcutta to write tracts exposing the atrocities committed by the Pakistani Army. Anam deftly weaves the personal and the political, giving the terrors of war spare, powerful treatment while lyrically depicting the way in which the struggle for freedom allows Rehana to discover both her strength and her heart.
Copyright © 2008 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Rehana's story is symbolic of the women of South Asia: of Pakistan, of Bangladesh, of India of the Arabian world. Its a story of being second class, powerless, hopeless and voiceless. But it is a story of possibilities, of hope and change. It is 'HERSTORY!' the women of the regions story contrasted poignantly by 'Hisstory' the story of male chauvinism, patriarchal domination and coldness. It is a story of gender equality and recognition of female abilities and potential, in the development of their societies, in that part of the world
I loved the characters. They were well drawn, especially for a first novel, but mainly the truth of them showed better in peace than in war. Some nice symbolism, far enough from the surface that it was not obvious, and the more effective for it. The finest scene, I thought, was in the refugee camp across the border. Very moving, not for its pity but for its ability to get below the surface.
The thing I liked the least was the one-sided portrayal of the West Pakistan occupiers. Perhaps accurate - certainly there were enough atrocities to make it legitimate. Although they do have their moments of human warmth and yielding, one suspects that there was more humanity to them than this story allows to be seen. They are shown, essentially, as all Gestapo.
But never mind. The fight to be free of the gestapos goes on, in many ways, in many lands, for many causes. Freedom is always advanced by the kind of honesty about life which is found in books like this.
First, the story immediately drew me in and then didn't let go. Anam opens her novel with "Dear Husband, I lost our children today" Maybe it's just me but I had to find out what happened and why. Anam draws her characters carefully and we get to understand each one gradually and more and more in the course of the story. She has the ability to create a multitude of pictures before your eyes for each scene, of each character, the surrounding, how each of them felt, what drives their actions. Even when Rehana (the main character) just washes clothes, these pictures help you see each movement as part of a larger puzzle that comes together to a spell binding story line.
Second, I learned so much from this novel: about the history of Bangladesh, the relationships between Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India, the daily lives, thoughts and hopes of people living in those places at that time. Although the author does not set out to teach but to tell a story, learning to love her characters also means learning to understand something about their home and hearts.
Is there anything I did not like about the book? No, not really. A small improvement would have been adding a glossary of Bangla terms used in the book. There are not many and the meaning is clear without them, but I would have liked to understand everything. That's not worth taking off a star though.
Who would I recommend the book to: Of course anybody interested in Bangladesh or South Asia in general, but more importantly anybody interested in a good story about family, a mother fighting for her children, the fate of friends torn apart in war, love and life... Although the historic events and location are specific, the story and people are deeply human - and therefore open themselves easily to all of us.
Rehana, Sohail, Maya - I already miss you. And, yes, I can't wait to read more about your story in Anam's second novel.