Review of The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam

A close Bengali sister and brother’s relationship is strained in the aftermath of war in this novel

Over at the Chicago Tribune Valerie Miner reviews the latest book by Tahmima Anam, The Good Muslim

Maya Haque is one of the century’s most interesting characters: prickly, passionate, tender, selfless, headstrong, devoted, belligerent, idealistic, naive, wise. The Good Muslim is Maya’s story, rooted in her devotion to nation and family and particularly to her brother, the tormented Sohail Haque.

What is it about Bengali anthropologists? First we have feted novelist Amitav Ghosh from West Bengal and now Tahmima Anam from East Bengal. Both earned doctorates in anthropology before turning to literary fiction. Each draws distinctly from a multi-ethnic Bengali culture that has spawned epic independence movements (from the 1857 mutiny against the British to the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War) as well as innovative artists (including Rabindranath Tagore, Satyajit Ray and Tareque Masud).

Anam sets her second novel in Bangladesh during the 1970s and 1980s, depicting the different ways Maya and Sohail survive the war and the ensuing Mujib dictatorship. Finishing her work in refugee camps, Maya is the first to return to Dhaka in 1972. She and her mother, Rehana, have a long wait for Sohail, who finally reappears, a silent wraith wracked by the revolutionary violence in which he was both victim and perpetrator. Slowly, surprisingly, he surfaces from traumatized muteness to become a charismatic preacher.

The Good Muslim brims with gripping narrative, absorbing history and Shakespearean moral conundrums. Anam’s characterizations are complex and immediate; her settings are both fresh and archetypal. “It was a winter of return, mothers waiting at home, preparing elaborate meals with the leftover war rations, straining their eyes to the road, jumping at the slightest sound. Inevitably, the moment of homecoming did not happen in the way they imagined.… No, it usually happened when she was at the market for a leg of mutton or looking for the lost pair of clothes pegs in the grass, and the boy would appear, disheveled and with new depths in his eyes, new sorrows etched into him, and when she saw him it would be like birthing him all over again, checking he had all his fingers and toes, wondering if he would survive this new world.”

Read full article @ The Chicago Tribune

~ by eneryvibes on 1,August 15, 2011.

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