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A Golden Age: A Novel Paperback – January 6, 2009

4.3 out of 5 stars 97 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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 Bangladesh’s 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 Pakistan—soon 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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 276 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (January 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006147875X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061478758
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (97 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #85,864 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Clare Chu on December 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
War novels like Gone with the Wind, Sophie's Choice, The Book Thief to name a few, capture the stresses and choices that ordinary people are forced to make as the brutality and deprivation of war, occupation, captivity, that change the ordinary circumstances of life into a living nightmare. This book is no different.

The book starts with a prologue where the widow Rehana sits at her husband's grave and tells him that she has lost the children. Because of her poverty, her husband's brother and childless sister-in-law have taken custody of Sohail and Maya, Rehana's 7 and 5 year olds. Even though they are gone for only a year, Rehana feels in her heart the yearning gap of that year and devotes herself totally to her children.

Every year, they have a party where they celebrate the children's return. March 1971 was no different. The party had become a routine, the same guests, Rehana's neighbors, a tenant family from India, the gin-rummy ladies and her daughter's friend. They are celebrating and optimistic of the future. But within a few short weeks, tanks rolled into Dhaka, refugees start streaming out, massacres occur in the city, and her children are drawn into the resistance movement. Life is anything but ordinary when Rehana is drawn into the resistance by her son and daughter. Faced with her guilt at how she lost them for a short while when they were young, and the secret of how she was able to bring them back, Rehana goes along with their efforts, hiding guns and supplies in her home and harboring and caring for a wounded major that at first she regards as a nuisance.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
A wealth of very talented authors such as Arundhati Roy, Monica Ali, and Jhumpa Lahiri have made South Asian women writers the hot ticket. This book, Tahmima Anam's A Golden Age, is one that follows in that wake. I feel Anam has some natural story-telling ability and will probably mature into an excellent novelist, but overall this work has a large number of weaknesses. While I often appreciate a novel that is written in simple language, Anam's book is often unpolished. The book is filled with awkward phrases and metaphors that don't work. ("the blood leaping in their skins" "He entered the room sleekly." "The weather was a gale in her stomach."). However, to Anam's credit, she does successfully weave in a motif of sugar imagery which felt interesting and original.

The book is also too short, a complaint I almost never make. But back story is ignored so that the reader doesn't feel the impact the characters do when a girl decides to marry someone besides the main character's son. We also can't experience much of what the main character goes through when she loses her children to her brother-in-law for a year as we are not exposed to the extent of her love for her kids until too far into the novel.

Descriptive detail is also spotty. The protagonist, Rehana, proclaims that Dhaka is her city and very much a part of her, yet we hardly get a picture of Dhaka at all. We know there's a university, a market, some slums near the main train station, a cricket stadium, a lot of rickshaws and not much else. And it is crucial to understand why Dhaka means so much when actually the main character is from Calcutta, her children are in Lahore, and her sisters are in Karachi. Their native language is Urdu.
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Format: Hardcover
In the beginning, I was frustrated that there was not a glossary for many of the Urdu words and expressions. This omission was an annoying distraction from the total experience. Emotionally, however, the simple prose builds gradually to a dramatic and poignant tension, necessitating the need to finish the book in the wee hours of the night.
After finishing the novel. I happened to hear the author on NPR noting that the main character, Rehama, was based on her own grandmother's experience and that one of the other main characters was her uncle. Her grandmother actually did hide the weapons at the house and was confronted by the Pakistani army at gunpoint as they were looking for her son. It would have been an added bonus to have included that information at the end, making this chilling and uplifting story all the more poignant.

Book clubs should love this book, not only for the exploration of the depths of a mother's love,but also for a fascinating historical and intimate look at Bangladesh's quest for independence.
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Format: Hardcover
A well written and lyrical tale about a family caught up in the furor of 1971. However, to someone unfamiliar with the environs, language and culture, I can see how the characters might seem superficial and distant at times. However, to those familiar with the Dhanmondi's Road 5 or the smell of fuchkas and biriyani, or the burning heat of July and the sweet rains of the monsoons, this book is both evocative and compelling. In not seeking to be an overarching history of the 1971 war, the book has opened a window into the effects of conflict on a human, personal level and told the story of the many often caught up in turmoil with little prior deliberation. There are numerous books and articles that can tell the historical details of the conflict but Anam's book is a loving tale told with compassion, sympathy and admiration for the courage of ordinary men and women.
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