A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam

Monday, August 29, 2011

Title: A Golden Age
Author: Tahmima Anam
Genre: Historical fiction, multicultural fiction
Publisher: Harper, 2008
Source: Library

Rehana has struggled for her children since the death of her husband, Iqbal. At first financially unable to care for them following her sudden widowhood, she was forced to give them up to her childless sister-in-law. After fighting desperately to bring them back into her home, another force threatens to take them away - the civil war between East and West Pakistan that ultimately resulted in the formation of the nation of Bangladesh. Rehana's two children, Maya and Sohail, are swept up in the passion of the new era, but Rehana will do anything to preserve their lives and bring them back safely.

My favorite book of all time, Kartography by Kamila Shamsie, also occurs during the civil war, but in West Pakistan. A Golden Age gave me the opportunity to see the Bangladesh side of the conflict, and it was a fascinating glimpse. Amam illustrates very clearly the consequences of war for someone living what appears to be a normal life (or as normal as can be expected in a country at war). Underneath the grumbles about ration cards, the "Ah yes, I sent my children to India where it is safer," the attempts at normalcy, Rehana lives an undercover life, attempting to help her compatriots and praying for the safety of her children.

A Golden Age has three themes that really stood out to me, and all of them were very meaningful. More than anything, this story is about motherhood. Rehana lost her children once, and she fears losing them again. However, she has to learn to let them go in some ways and protect them in others as they join the movement for an independent Bangladesh. She also has to deal with her differences with her daughter Maya, a passionate but serious girl that Rehana has difficulty relating to. As Rehana puts more of herself into the war effort, she is better able to understand and sympathize with Maya. While I am not a mother yet, I thought this was really interesting because it showed the way the relationship continued to unfold and evolve. I think mothers have different roles in our lives at different stages, and learning to move through those stages and adapt to the changes that occur as children grow up can be very difficult for both mother and child. A Golden Age presented this in an interesting and touching light.

A second issue Rehana must deal with is whether or not Bangladesh could even be considered her home. Born and raised in India, a nation that is soon seen as an enemy, she must determine if she should feel more affinity to the country of her birth or to the country where she was married, raised her children, and developed friendships. I liked the questions about this throughout the story, because I think it raised the question of what Rehana personally was fighting for. Did she want independence for Bangladesh? Did she want things to remain the way they were? Paying close attention to this question definitely demonstrated her motives and allowed a depth to the story that went beyond actions.

The third issue that I really enjoyed in this story was that of growth for Rehana. She is a widow, never remarried, living a quiet life in a nice home and renting out a second home to tenants. She dotes on her children and is terrified of losing them. This could have led to stagnancy, but throughout the war Rehana learns countless new things about love, loyalty, resourcefulness, and courage. I enjoyed her development and the people she helps along the way.

The story itself moved at a seemingly quiet pace, but the events that transpired between the first and last pages were dramatically different. The reader proceeds through the narrative at a leisurely pace, like living life from day to day with a few dramatic alterations from the war, but looking back at the beginning can see how far the characters have come. The story is low on melodrama but deals with many harsh realities of war and being a fugitive.

To me this story was a solid example of excellent literature, presenting a complex plot with many themes. While I didn't connect on a deeply emotional level with the characters, I enjoyed their story and look forward to reading the sequel, The Good Muslim. I think this story is an excellent choice for anyone interested in understanding the experience of a woman left behind in war time.

4 stars

Warnings: A few f-bombs, innuendo, violence

1 comment:

  1. Okay, so I know the stories are totally different, but how would you compare this one to Kartography? Which I totally loved. But I already told you that.


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