April 06, 2020
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Spare Particulars

Told in spare, straightforward prose, history unfolds in small and large ways in this accomplished novel.

Spare Particulars
A Golden Age: A Novel
By Tahmima Anam
John Murray Pages: 276; Rs: £10.99
In the last year or so, I’ve read three major novels from Bangladesh, all by women: Monica Ali’s Brick Lane, Shaheen Akhter’s Talaash, and now Tahmima Anam’s A Golden Age. In one way or another, these young women explore the painful history of their country, Ali by looking at its current realities, Akhter and Anam by looking at the 1971 war.

Anam’s narrative explores the lives of three people—Rehana, and her children Maya and Sohail—as the ’71 war descends upon them, at first gradually, and then inexorably changing their lives. Sohail, non-violent by nature, is drawn into the armies of the young; Maya, a stronger political being, makes do with the avenues of resistance open to her.

But it is Rehana’s story—told in spare, straightforward prose—that lies at the heart of the novel: supporting her son, trying to understand her daughter, caught in a situation of looking after a wounded army man (a faint echo of The English Patient here), trying to keep alive her dead husband’s memory, and amidst all this, wondrously finding love, and then making the ultimate, difficult, impossible choice. Thus are small lives profoundly changed by history, and thus does history itself unfold in small and large ways in this accomplished novel.

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