A Golden Age and the Good Muslim by Tahmima Aman

Today I’m reviewing two books together just because they are the first 2 books in a 3 book series and I feel the second cannot be read without the first.

Title: A Golden Age
Author: Tahmima Aman
Genre: Fiction
Set in: Bangladesh
Source: Personal Shelf
Rating:4.5 out of 5

My thoughts:
In 1947, after Independence from the British, India was partitioned into India and Pakistan (east and West). East Pakistan was later named as Bangladesh after the 1971 war. Okay, as an Indian, I know all this. But my knowledge about the Bangladesh war of Independence is very limited. Forget about the war but even otherwise I knew very little about Bangladesh in spite of its proximity to India. So when my husband went to Bangladesh for work, I asked him to get me something written by a Bangladeshi author and he got A Golden Age. Honestly I couldn’t have selected a better book.

A Golden Age is about a Muslim woman called Rehana whose husband has expired and her children are forcefully handed over to the relatives as she was deemed unfit to raise her kids all alone. She works hard to get her kids back to Dhaka and succeeds but not without any sacrifices. The story actually begins when her kids are all grown up: Maya is a 17-year-old and Soheil is 19. Soheil and Maya are actively involved in student politics; Soheil is a very charming speaker and can pull crowds. When Pakistan attacks Bangladesh (then East Pakistan), Rehana does not want her children to get involved in the war in any way. She had to fight very hard to get them back from her relatives and she doesn’t want the war taking them away from her.

As the war comes closer to home and her children become involved to the point of leaving their homes and fighting for their country, we see all that Rehana has ever struggled for on the verge of falling to pieces. We also see her strength as a woman and her resolve to protect her children at all costs.

In A Golden Age, we don’t get to know the details of the war, we are always on the fringes. Our state is like Rehana’s, wanting to know what is happening and when it will all end. It is a human story, the story of a mother set against the backdrop of a war. I loved the authors writing, it took me to Bangladesh, to Dhanmondi and that period of struggle. I enjoyed reading this book immensely inspite of the serious topic. It was informative and entertaining. This is one book that I very highly recommend.

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Title: The Good Muslim
Author: Tehmima Aman
Genre: Fiction
Set in: Bangladesh
Source: Review Copy
Rating:4.5 out of 5

My thoughts:
The Good Muslim begins 10 years after A Golden Age ends. It felt right to review these 2 books together as the second one is the continuation of the first and without reading the first book  it is very difficult to understand the second. The war has ended, a new country, Bangladesh is formed and 10 years have passed. This book is from Maya’s point of view and she is now a women’s doctor in a remote village in Bangladesh, leaving her mother and brother, for reasons unknown at that point. Due to some unfortunate circumstances Maya has to return to Dhaka. She finds that a lot has  changed while she was away. Her brother has dedicated himself to Islam and he is no longer close to their mother. Soheil’s wife’s funeral is being held and he also has a son called Zaid who is 4 years old.

Soheil has begun to give religious sermons and has left his sons upbringing to a woman who works with him. She is as strict and religious as Soheil and Zaid is left without any education and anyone to look after him. Maya struggles to settle back in Dhaka and tries to comprehend the changes Soheil has gone through. She takes Zaid under her wing and tries to make his life better.
On the other hand, she also struggles to understand how people can forget how they struggled for Independence only a few years back and have moved on. She doesn’t want to move on. She wants to remember, not only all that happened but also how Soheil was before and during the war. She wants to understand what Soheil has gone through to affect him so much that he has to turn to religion. When Soheil decides to send Zaid to a Madrasa, Maya thinks she has to do something for Zaid.

In The Good Muslim we don’t get to know what’s going on in Rehana’s mind which was weird considering how tuned I was to her feelings in the first book. It felt uncomfortable not knowing what was going on in her mind. Nevertheless, Maya is an interesting character as well. The author has shown all her confusion, anger and frustration very well.

I loved this book equally if not more than A Golden Age. I thought without the war as a backdrop, the book would be boring but it wasn’t. Her writing is very beautiful yet very easy to read and get lost into. She takes you to the remote villages in Bangladesh as well as to the rapidly changing Dhaka with equal ease. Most of all it reminded me of home, of eating puchkas and drinking chai from a street vendor while looking at an ever changing landscape.

Tahmima Aman takes you into the heart of the country and into the heart of the people who reside there. For that reason alone, this book is worth reading.

Note: A Golden Age is from my personal shelf while The Good Muslim is a review copy.

A Face in the Dark and Other Hauntings by Ruskin Bond

Title: A Face in the Dark and Other Hauntings: Collected Stories of the Supernatural
Author: Ruskin Bond
197 pages
Publisher: Viking Books (January 2004)
Genre: Fiction (short stories)
Set in: India

My thoughts:
Ruskin Bond. How much do I loved this author. Not because I have read his work extensively, but because he is the first author that made me feel like I could love reading. He showed me that reading could be a pleasure which could transport you to a different world altogether. He gave me my first glimpse into how the reading world could be. All this because of one short story called The Cherry Tree

The Cherry Tree is the story of a young boy from the hill station of Mussoorie who plants a cherry tree and watches it grow. Such a simple story but it evokes such beautiful imagery. We had this story in our curriculum as children and I seriously cannot recall the number of times I have read it. In fact I have still kept my English textbook just because of this one story. That’s the Ruskin Bond magic.

My point being that when I saw the book A Face in the Dark and Other Hauntings in the library I picked it up. I couldn’t wait to read it and I was not disappointed in the least. This collection of short stories has all kinds of stories, the theme being “supernatural”. There are stories of ghosts, fairies and jinns, most happening in the backdrop of the beautiful hill stations of Northern India. There is also Rudyard Kipling’s and Sherlock Holmes Ghost.

Ruskin Bond does not write complicated words, nor does he write complicated stories. These stories reminded me of stories I’ve heard from my friends and relatives, of the time when we all used to settle down at night and make up ghost stories to frighten each other.

But none of the stories really scare you, they are simply meant to entertain. Almost all these stories are based in the mountains and in actual places, be it the story of the fairies on the Pari Tibba hill or stories based in the forests of India. Some of the stories are even hilarious but almost all make you smile as you read the last line. How many ghosts stories can you say that for?

Please read this book. It’s the simplicity of the stories which make them beautiful. They can be read by children as well as enjoyed by adults.

I don’t have the capability to rate this book but for me Ruskin Bond will always have a 5/5.

I’m adding this to the South Asian Authors Challenge. Although Ruskin Bond is British by birth, he was born in India and has stayed in India almost all his life. He writes about India and it’s people with as much love and affection. In fact, Ruskin Bond is India’s one of most favorite authors and his stories are included in textbooks in India.

The Travel Writer by Simone Lazaroo

Title: The Travel Writer
Author: Simone Lazaroo
Published: 2006 by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Limited
Genre: Literary Fiction, Woman’s Fiction
Source: Library
Based in Malacca (Malaysia) and London
Rating: 3.75 out of 5

My thoughts:
I found ‘The Travel Writer’ when I was browsing the Singapore Literature section in the library. The cover as well as the summary appealed a lot to me. Set in Malacca (Malaysia) this is a story of 3 generation of women-grandmother, mother and the daughter. This is not a structured book though. It does not follow a time line. The story of the grandmother is not very detailed but the stories of the mother-Ghislaine and the daughter-Isabelle are alternated in chapters.

Ghislaine, as a teenager, is so desperate to escape her surroundings and to explore the world that she gets involved with men who are totally wrong for her. She is looking for an escape from her grief in the form of love. She chases a dream all her life.

Isabelle, living in London, although is very different conditions from her mother, is still looking for the same thing. Love and acceptance.

Simone Lazaroo’s writing is excellent. She writes with a depth, understanding and intelligence that is very rare.

–> In the jungle near home some varieties of Orchids are pollinated by male insects who mistake their colouring and shape for female insects anatomy, my mother had told me as she watered the garden. Flowering is possible despite false love. Remember this.

–> There she was, falling open at the words her lover had marked in her as he undid her page by page, exposing her spine, leaving only this bad translation of her flapping in the wind.

I loved the first half of the book, but after some time the book got very depressing and sad, so much that I could feel the sadness affecting my mood and I wanted to finish the book as soon as possible. It also does not have a definite plot which could help you turn the pages. I’m not sure that’s a complain but too much melancholy does not work for me.

All in all, I would say I like the book and I loved the writing. I would love to read another book by Simone Lazaroo.

Simone Lazaroo was born in Singapore but migrated to Australia at the age of 3. She has won the Western Australian Premier’s Award for Fiction for all three of her novels, which have also been short-listed for national and international literary awards. The World Waiting to be Made has been translated into French and Mandarin, The Australian Fiancé is optioned for film, and extracts from the manuscript of The Travel Writer won awards including the David T.K. Wong Fellowship at the University of East Anglia, England. Simone’s short stories have been anthologised in Australia and England. She was a judge of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (Pacific /South East Asian region) in 2006, and lectures at Murdoch University, Perth.