A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam

Having loved Anam’s second book, ‘The Good Muslim’, I was on the lookout for her first book – ‘The Golden Age’. Although The Good Muslim was a sequel, I had no trouble following the story line, and I hoped that The Golden Age wouldn’t be rendered redundant by the fact that I had already read the sequel.

GoldenAge

I needn’t have worried. It is East Pakistan in 1971. Rehana Haque has just about started to breathe easy. Her two children, Sohail and Maya, who she struggled to keep with her and bring up, after she was widowed, have grown up and are in university. She now feels secure and comfortable, she has kept her children safe. The country is in the brink of a civil war. East Pakistan is fighting for independence and her children, she realizes, are right in the middle of it all. Not for them, the everyday worries of safety and security. Her sense of security vanishes overnight.

The life that she carefully tried to preserve, carefully nurtured, is all in pieces. Political upheavals seem to be mirrored in personal upheavals. Things which they took for granted are suddenly questioned.

While the sequel was largely about Maya and Sohail. The Golden Age, I would say, is mainly about Rehana. It is her story. Her struggles, her choices, and her life. Even when her choices seem wrong, it is difficult to judge her because her circumstances seem so tough on her. The ties that bind a mother to her children, and the extents to which people are forced to go because of their circumstances. Rehana finds herself part of a war, an upheaval that she wanted no part of, but is powerless to do anything about it.

I particularly liked the way the author has woven political incidents and upheavals into the story. Rehana’s life in East Pakistan before it became Bangladesh is a window to life in East Pakistan and the way it all changed. Hindus who considered it their homeland, suddenly realized that they had to run for their lives. When suddenly everybody has to choose sides, and hope that they have chosen the right side. While the older generation struggles with the choices, the younger generation is the one with the spirit to fight for what they consider their right. I can’t imagine what it must be to live through a war like this, but can only guess, that despite the tremendous losses, what they gained must be so very precious. A tale of love, heart-break, strife and hope.

A wonderful book. A book which I would recommend to everybody who likes books set in political situations and history. I especially love books of this sort, as it gives me an insight to how everyday life gets changed irrevocably by political decisions and political situations.

Edited to add: Title corrected – all thanks to Saks 🙂

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The End of Innocence By Moni Mohsin

As I have mentioned before, I have developed a taste for books related to the Indian Subcontinent. I grabbed this book, based on the synopsis at the back and the fact that it was a book by a Pakistani author – a first for me.

Based in the Pakistan of 1971, with the backdrop of the civil war within Pakistan and the war with India, it is a touching story of a friendship between two girls. Laila is the eight year-old daughter of Fareeda and Tariq Aseem.  They live in the little village of Sabzbagh. Tariq’s mother lives in a neighbouring village of Kalanpur. Laila and her elder sister Sara live in Lahore during term time and are home with their parents during the holidays, as they attend a convent school in Lahore.

At the time the story starts, Laila is at home recovering from typhoid. Sara is at school. Laila is delighted that she can have Rani, her paternal grandmother’s servant’s granddaughter all to herself. Rani is older than Laila and when Sara is around Laila is the odd one out. Living in a world of her own, created by her imagination, aided by all the Enid Blytons that she reads, all she wants is to solve mysteries and have a dog. Rani, on the other hand is older, being a teenager, she is more interested in Heer, Ranjha and romantic movies and hopes to meet her own Ranjha some time.

The adults are all worried about the impending war with India.  Most of them are aghast at the idea that their beloved nation is breaking up into two. Only Laila’s dad, Tariq, wonders if it had been one nation – ever?

Amidst all this, Rani falls in love with someone, and end up pregnant. Laila understood that something was wrong, but was too young to understand much. All she wanted was to help, to be part of Rani’s team. In her zest and enthusiasm to help, she sets off in motion, something totally different.

The relationship between the two girls is portrayed beautifully. Laila’s innocence, teamed with Rani’s child-woman feelings, the various undercurrents of society. Each character, I felt was very well etched out. Be it Fareeda, Tariq, or Sister Clementine. Each character’s compulsions and reactions, like how Fareeda reacts when Sister Clementine tries to tell her about Rani’s situation.

It was a wonderful read. I found the story fascinating. The situations beautifully depicted, and the child’s mind portrayed so very well. I would give it a 4/5.