In honour of today’s anniversary of the founding of Bangladesh, I give you — A Golden Age.
A year ago, I wrote about the launch of Tahmima Anam’s first novel, in my “Do I Want to Read Your Book?” series. Now I have accomplished my desire to read the book, and it has fulfilled everything that was promised that evening.
The book provides a bittersweet, personal tale of the events surrounding the creation of Bangladesh, as East Pakistan declared independence form Pakistan and fought for its own identity. While many of the events that befall the main family in the story are fictional, Ms. Anam reached into her personal history to base much of the tale on the life of her own grandmother. The account of everyday existence in the midst of turmoil appears simple at first, yet expands to reveal profound insights into personal identity in the context of family and country.
The events that led to the declaration of independence, and the troubling and frightening times that followed until it was finally achieved, weave almost seamlessly through the lives of the widow Rehana Haque and her two young adult children. While the young people have no doubts whatsoever about their own identity and allegiance, Rehana herself must struggle with hers: is she Bangladeshi, or does she truly belong in Pakistan, on the other side of India to the west, where she was born and grew up?
Rehana’s own trauma from previous losses stunts her and makes her afraid. Yet as she fights to protect her son and daughter — even while they plunge themselves deeply into the war for independence and remove themselves from her protection — she begins to fight also for herself. And as Bangladesh achieves its own identity, through tragedy, loss, and victory, she finds a way to recreate herself, both as a person and as a citizen of the new country.
A Golden Age does not get bogged down in the fine details of the politics and history of the war, but it does reveal them to the reader through the eyes of people who lived it all: the ideals, the betrayals, the battles, and the ultimate victory. The book is a story of exuberance, struggle, maturity, and identity — not just in the life of a newly-born country, but in the lives of the real people who gave birth to it.
[To read chapter one of this book online, visit the Shortcovers entry for A Golden Age.]