My rating: 5 of 5 stars
‘The Good Muslim’ by Tahmima Anam is one of only a handful of books in my life which has left me in real pain. I felt something akin to grief when the book came to an end as wave after wave of emotions flooded my every pore.
The story deals with the aftermath of the War of Independence in 1971 and Anam beautifully characterises the problems which still face Bangladesh today without ever resorting to preaching. The tale, which tells of a brother and sister and how they come to terms with what happened in the war and in the years following it, is a sequel to Tahmima Anam’s ‘A Golden Age’ but, to my mind, it is the better of the two.
Reading the book brought back so many memories for me – memories of many years living in Bangladesh. I knew the places the author writes of, loved them and I have witnessed the beauty and the cruelty of the land and its people. These memories were wonderful yet painful enough but Anam brings her characters alive so well that you’re left feeling you know them – especially the sister, Maya – and you don’t want them to leave you. The sadness is that many of the questions the book asks are still left unanswered today. The very identity of Bangladesh hasn’t moved on since 1971 itself. What does it mean to be Bangladeshi? What does it mean to be a ‘good Muslim’ and Bangladeshi? Anam leaves you grasping at shadows of answers but, in the end, you’re left wondering just who the ‘Good Muslim’ of the title really was. Nothing is certain; nothing is presented as black and white. Heroes are victims and victims are heroes leaving your very being tattered and frayed, a car-wreck of emotions.
This is a must-read for anyone coming to visit Bangladesh or intending to work here. It is also a must-read for any of the millions of Bangladeshis around the world who were not born in the country of their parents and perhaps have never really known it other than for a few fleeting visits to relatives. Anam cuts to the core of the feelings, the confusion, the angst which still grips a nation trying to work out who it is and what it wants to be. Come ready to understand but come ready to be wounded too.