A Golden Age. Tahmima Anam. Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., 2007. 276 pp.
On March 25, 1971, West Pakistan began a ruthless military suppression of the civilian population of East Pakistan. The pogrom that this crackdown turned into sparked a bloody war between the two halves of the same country, and it is in this grim setting that Tahmima Anam’s debut, A Golden Age , takes place. In this gripping tale of love and sacrifice, the author explores the dynamic relations of ordinary people caught in the midst of a massive conflict. Although the novel succeeds in opening an intimate window into the life of normal Bengalis trying to come to grips with the mayhem around them, it falls short of being an adequate treatise on the intrigues and realities of an unjust war.
Anam’s central character is Rehana Haque, a widowed mother of two, who struggles to support and protect her children during this rough time. Her children, both almost grown-up and attending university in Dhaka, East Pakistan, love their country. It is because of this love, combined with their youthful idealism, that they are quickly swept up in the resistance movement against the neo-colonial West Pakistanis. Although politically ambivalent, Rehana is torn between forbidding and supporting her children, as they risk everything for Bangladesh. It is in this personal turmoil that Rehana somehow finds the strength inside of herself to do things she would have normally considered impossible.
Of course Rehana was already a strong woman to begin with. Ten years before the start of the story, in order to get back custody of her children, she did what widowed women in the early sixties of East Pakistan should not do. She possessed the strength to ignore her society’s conventions, the vigour necessary to muster all her resources to build a large rental house on her property, and the temerity to use that house to generate the income necessary to save her family. In tribute to...