Friday, June 11, 2010

No Country Like Home

I have some memories of that year. Vague sketchy memories. I was too young, but I do remember the blackouts, the siren, the impassioned "Jai Bangla" cry. For those of us who were in Kolkata at that time, the war had entered our doorsteps. Millions had entered our country as refugees and the air was thick with tension.

The year was 1971. The Bangladeshis were fighting for liberation. Indira Gandhi was pledging full support. And India's Sam Manekshaw was masterminding strategies to win the war. Unlike the author of The Golden Age, children in India did not grow up listening to war stories. That perhaps is the reason why I found this particular book so fascinating and engrossing. The war was so near to me, yet I knew nothing of it.

The Golden Age by the Bangladeshi author Tahmima Anam won the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 2008. It is the story of a woman, Rehana Haque and her two children Sohail and Maya during the Bangladesh war. It is the story of a mother who held on to her two children with all her strength and never gave them up. It is the story of a country, battered and bruised but never giving up hope and it is the story of an obscene war, tearing apart ordinary lives and ordinary families. This was one stunning novel I hated to put down, 

To be honest, the novel's first half did not impress me so much. I found some discrepancies in the initial pages. A Hindu neighbour of Rehana, called Supriya Sengupta wears a heavy gold mangalsutra to show she is married.  Bengali women wear the mangalsutra as a fashion statement and not as a sign of marriage. We wear the 'loha' an iron bangle for that. We also wear the the traditional shankha-paula or the red and white bangles. Mangalsutra was never a part of bridal jewellery. It is only now, seeing women of other regions proudly flaunting this sacred thread, we have started wearing it. But we have no hesitation in taking this off when the saree or the outfit that we are wearing does not match with this accessory. To think that a woman in 1971 Bangladesh would wear one to indicate she was married seemed a bit unlikely to me. My mother's generation never wore the mangalsutra.

The story also mentions how Rehana took her children to see Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra in 1959. The reference of the movie is important here as this is one of the reasons Rehana lost custody of her children. I feel the author should have researched a bit more on this as the movie in question was released in 1963. A little bit imperfect history, but still the novel is powerfully written.


The other book I read in my quest to go round the world's libraries was Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton. If the earlier book was gritty, this one was taut with emotions. This is the story of Stephen Kumalo, a black priest in a tiny village of South Africa who went to the big, bad city of Johannesburg to find his son. The book takes us through the black and white South Africa, the prosperity of the whites and the abject poverty of the blacks, the  Shanty Town of the blacks and the beautiful houses of the whites. It explores the racial injustice in a country where the whites controlled the blacks and completely destroyed their tribal culture.


The book is remarkable. This is what I would call a true classic. Each word, carefully chosen is full of beauty, wisdom and despair. You have to read it. There is no other way to describe it. Grab your copy today.


One book set in Bangladesh. Another in far away South Africa. One place where heavy monsoon rains mercilessly destroy the lives of the people but make the land lush, green and fertile. Another, where there are continuous droughts and the land is almost always parched. Two different cultures, two different races. And two authors deeply in love with their land, their despair and their hope of renewal for their own countries. 


So these were the books I read last week. I have already finished another book this week. But that is of course for my next post. Some of the books that I've shortlisted are as follows:


1. Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro, a Canadian author. I fell in love with the name!
2. South Of The Border,West Of The Sun by Haruki Murakami, a Japanese. Again I loved the name and that is why I picked this up.
3. The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad, a Norwegian journalist.
4. In The Pond by Ha Jin, a Chinese author, settled in USA.


I have been unable to decide on books from Australia and New Zealand. If you have a suggestion, then let me know. Till then I will be reading the ones listed above...  







30 comments:

Anu said...

you can try out 'Down Under' by Bill Bryson... i read it recently, and it was hilarious!! it made me wonder what he would write about India! it might make for a change from the emotional books you have been reading......

ZB said...

wow, You are seriously into books. I wish i could manage time. My day starts at 6, when the baby awakes, and ends past 12.20 am. Completely exhausted, would be an understatement. I feel this heavy, tiresome, hectic days are reasons for my depression.

I have bought around 50 books this year( 2010) but havent completed a single one. I need a BREAK. A holiday. otherwise it would break me. TC, nice to know about these two books. I have noted the titles, would surely browse around the book stores. TC:)

Nona said...

You finished two books! That was pretty fast!

Thanks for sharing the reviews! I'm right now watching, Invictus, a movie about South Africa. Talk about coincidences!

Deepa said...

I must admire your speed in reading. I take at least a week to read a book! You should try Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington. I've seen the movie and its really powerful. Its a true story account of how mixed blood children in Australia were taken away from their families - and this was sanctioned by the State. They were called the 'Stolen Generation'.

The Panorama said...

Nice post. Hey, you are a fast reader!!
May I suggest you read one by a Norwegian author " The doll house" Hunger" by Henrik Ibsen, one of the most authors from Norway. Or books by the Swedish author Stig Larsson, he wrote a triology where the first book is called " Men who hate women". It is an immense hit here in Scandinavia. I haven't read it yet but do want to.
I am looking forward to reading more posts on the books you read:)

starry said...

You do love books.I have been watching too much of tv than reading books lately.I have to read some of the books you listed.

A New Beginning said...

The list is getting all the more interested ..youre a speed reader for sure :)

kavita said...

Even if the book lacks some good research 'The Golden Age' does sound very interesting.'Cry,The Beloved Country'...as you suggested last time ,i have already ordered one copy.Two different books set up in different cultural backgrounds,countries--but essence of the stories sound similar.

You are doing a great job Aparna ...thanks for sharing .

Now i understand what you meant by Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage...good one !

One of my friend reading 'The Far Pavilions' by (M.M.Kay) is highly impressed by the book.I am reading a collection of short stories by Dipanwita Mukherjee named 'That Calcutta...Those Bongs' and sorta loving it.

BK Chowla, said...

Thanks for sharing a lovely post. Frankly, I am not so much into book reading

Sandhya said...

Very interesting review, Aparna. You are a Bengali and so the review of The Golden Age was authentic. As far as I know the South Indians give lot of importance to Mangal sutra. Others give importance to sindoor, I thought. I was given the red and white bangles by a family, when I went to Kolkata last year.

The second book seems to be nice. Will look out for it, Aparna.

Enjoy the reading marathon!

Jyothi said...

Nice reviews.I wouldn't have figured out the discrepancies in history!I guess the writers take a lot of liberties. Keep reading and reviewing. I can believe that you finished two books so quickly, what I can't believe is that you even managed to understnad it so well....he he

Gayathri said...

I wish i could manage some time to read some books.. There still are some 4-5 books in the shelf in the 'plan to read' status.. God knows when i will find time..
Anyhow your post inspires me :D..
Would try The Golden Age next time..

Kavi said...

Sounds tempting. But no new books until i have finished the ones that i bought earlier this year.

Will be done this month...!

Two books...well..thats something..

Santanu Sinha Chaudhuri said...

Thanks for introducing the books to me. A well-written post that -- I believe -- carries the flavours of the novels.

Aparna said...

Anu, thank you so much for this. Yes, I've been reading a lot of the heavy stuff and won't mind some comic relief.

Aparna said...

ZB, I've been through that routine so completely sympathize with you! Do find some time to de-stress!

Nona, yes I did, what's more I finished 2 more too!

Deepa, yes I've heard about the stolen generation. Will try to get that one.

Saroj, know about Ibsen, long ago had read an abridged version of Hunger. So many books to read in one lifetime!

Starry, yes, stop the TV and read some books instead!

A new beginning, thanks.

Kavita, That Calcutta Those Bongs sounds very interesting! And you will love both the books I read!

Lazy Pineapple said...

Both books sound wonderful..I am gonna try getting the book Cry, The beloved Country...seems to be a book I will definitely like...

You should make a post at the end of the month and put the list of all the books you have read..I will love to have a copy and try reading them..

BTW...You have won the 'Caption Contest' on my blog..please mail me to get your trophy..congratulations...

Haddock said...

Must read this book "The Golden Age"
I remember quite a lot of the 71 war so it should ring some bells.
Incidentally my latest post too mentions about an incident from the 71 war.

Tomz said...

A true reader, and from your selection of books, what I gather is that the Partition has mentally affected many people like you!

Jarlin Paul said...

Great post, keep writing.

KParthasarathi said...

I am lucky that you visited my blog and left a comment.Otherwise I would not have seen this wonderful blog.
The reviews of two books were crisp whetting the desire of the readers to grab the books.So long as the story is kept absorbing, the minor inaccuracies like whether Mangal sutra was worn by Bengalis then do not detract from the merit of the novel.
Would suggest your showing the titles of the books you read separately on the side bar for readers' ready use
Thank you

Chandrika Shubham said...

Thanks for sharing the review. I will definitely read this book.

RGB said...

Wow...I nice way to discover the world and its many cultures, where the past and the future unveils in the present. Enjoying the journey with you, this far. Good going!

Destiny's child... said...

Wow...your mission is coming out well...keep posting your views about the books you read :)

ani_aset said...

by god what speed :( every time i read your posts these days i feel how less i am reading :P

The Holy Lama said...

So we know more through you. Keep posting your 80 days

家信 said...

向著星球長驅直進的人,反比踟躕在峽路上的人,更容易達到目的。..................................................................

Smita said...

lemme see if I can get any of these books! Though I feel that the 1st book wud be a bit sad one!

The Ketchup Girl said...

I live in Sydney, Aparna. And Have had the opportunity to read a lot of Australian Authors. Read ' Breath' by Tim Winton, an australian Author. And 'A Fortunate Life' by A B Facey for a true Australian flavour. Apparently 'cloudstreet' by Tim Winton is good too. But I haven't read it yet to recommend it.

Aparna said...

Thanks every one for writing in and leaving your encouragement and suggestions.
@ LP, Cry the beloved country is fabulous.

@ The Ketchup girl, thank you for your suggestion on the Australian books. Will look for them.