Star rating – 8/10
This is the second novel in a trilogy by Tahmima Anam, which fuses the background to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, with the deeply personal experiences of one family against the backdrop of that conflict, and the subsequent divisions which it creates both within the country as a whole, and within the family itself. It continues the story from her debut novel, the award winning and deservedly richly praised 2007 debut ‘A Golden Age’.
The story is of Maya, her brother Sohail, and their beloved mother. The siblings have taken very different paths in the conflict, and we return to them here as Maya is coming home to Dhaka after being a doctor for a decade in the north of their new country. She is an independent and confident woman, who still wants to remain true to her revolutionary self; as opposed to her brother, who has taken the path of Muslim fundamentalism. Maya has little time for his faith, and rebels against it, especially where his young son Zaid is concerned.
Maya cannot tolerate or forgive her brother’s seeming abandonment of his son after his wife’s death in favour of his fervent religion. But she is not allowed to really look after Zaid or educate him either. It is only later on in the story that some of the full horrors of Sohail’s war experiences are revealed, and offered by way of an explanation for his behaviour and his devotion to his religion, and rejection of his previously held beliefs.
Anam again weaves a wonderful story, which tells of the personal journeys of the different family members, mainly from the point of view of Maya herself, and meshes that with a fascinating insight into the war that ravaged that country. It is deeply engrossing and powerfully engaging. But you do need to read the first part of the trilogy to make sense of the different threads that she is bringing together here. I only hope it is not another four years before we are treated to the final enriching instalment.