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A Golden Age: A Novel

A book by Tahmima Anam

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(3.5) "She would have moved through the world... trying to find the thing that would deny her most."

  • Nov 25, 2007
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In East Pakistan in 1971, Rehana Haque is celebrating the anniversary of her children's return, the guns of war sounding on the horizon, the coming independence of Bangladesh as yet a dream in the minds of revolutionaries. But Rehana has restricted her needs and dreams to her household, to the lives of her children, seventeen-year-old Maya and nineteen-year old Sohail. Soon after the death of Rehana's husband, the children were removed from her home by her brother-in-law until such time as the mother could prove herself capable of providing adequately for their care. Now, nearly a decade later, Rehana is still overwhelmed with gratitude that her children are safe and happy with her, even though she never speaks of the shameful act that was necessary to achieve her goal, the return of her dear children.

It is telling that this mother, clinging to the past, refers to "the children" as if they are forever captured in their youth and innocence, denying the fact that both are politically active, Maya flirting with the politics of her close friends in university and Sohail anxious to join the ranks of the other young men fighting for their country's freedom from Pakistani rule. The young people eagerly embrace the future, while Rehana remains married to her fears, at the same time recognizing that she is helpless to change whatever decisions her son and daughter make on behalf of their country. A woman who would be content to spend the rest of her days in the quiet rituals of home and family, the unpredictable and dangerous is deeply unsettling to Rehana, whose only identity- other than widow- is as a mother. Passive in the face of their demands, she loses any ability to deny them, complicit in their preparations for war.

Tethered to the earth and her memories, Rehana is unintentionally heroic on behalf of those in the village caught in the crosshairs of the struggle; she remains, in fact, a simple woman with few expectations other than the safety of her children and devotion to her friends. An unexpected romance gives her comfort in the fierce battles that follow, a brief sojourn into a different life ("the man... who lived in her house for ninety-six days and who passed through her small life like a storm"); but soon enough Rehana is called back to duty, a short sojourn in an Indian refugee camp that drives her home to her village and a harsh decision that is unavoidable for her son's survival. Rehana becomes part of the greater cause, not through any grandiose designs for Bangladesh, but through expedience and a genuine concern for the fate of others, a steadying force for those uprooted from their homes, terrified by grief and loss.

A survivor of the revolution, Rehana is a part of this evolving society, painted here in all its bloody colors, her very tenacity and respect for duty providing the essential heartbeat of a new country. The political landscape is defined by those who wield power, but the fabric of Rehana's world is created by those, like her, who join together in hope and healing: "We have to find ways to exist in a country without war." Luan Gaines/ 2007.

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More A Golden Age: A Novel reviews
review by . February 01, 2008
Boring, plodding prose and poor characterization, except for maybe Rehana, the main character, undermine this otherwise decent story. The story is set in the early 1970's and revolves around Rehana, a widow who lost her children after her husband died for lack of resources to care for them, and the regained them back. Her children, while in college, become involved in the East Pakistan political movement that eventually leads to the civil war and breaking off and formation of a new country, Bangladesh. …
review by . January 25, 2008
Five stars with a flaw. Many of the other reviews will give you a synopsis, so I'll skip that. A Golden Age reminds me a bit of Tolstoy or Chekhov in that we are aware, and even privy to great events, but our focus is on the individuals rather than the events. That point of focus allows the humanity of the participants to shine through from their smaller stages, rather than the great stages of revolution or war. A Golden Age takes us into families, and households to show us daily life in a time …
About the reviewer
Luan Gaines ()
Ranked #108
An artist/writer, I have traveled the world, walked on the moon and learned the complicated language of humanity, the enormity of the universe... all through the written word. My first passport was a … more
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Starred Review.The experiences of a woman drawn into the 1971 Bangladesh war for independence illuminate the conflict's wider resonances in Anam's impressive debut, the first installment in a proposed trilogy. Rehana Haque is a widow and university student in Dhaka with two children, 17-year-old daughter Maya and 19-year-old son Soheil. As she follows the daily patterns of domesticity—cooking, visiting the cemetery, marking religious holidays—she is only dimly aware of the growing political unrest until Pakistani tanks arrive and the fighting begins. Suddenly, Rehana's family is in peril and her children become involved in the rebellion. The elegantly understated restraint with which Anam recounts ensuing events gives credibility to Rehana's evolution from a devoted mother to a woman who allows her son's guerrilla comrades to bury guns in her backyard and who shelters a Bengali army major after he is wounded. The reader takes the emotional journey from atmospheric scenes of the marketplace to the mayhem of invasion, the ruin of the city, evidence of the rape and torture of Hindus and Bengali nationalists, and the stench and squalor of a refugee camp. Rehana's metamorphosis encapsulates her country's tragedy and makes for an immersive, wrenching narrative.(Jan.)
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ISBN-10: 0061478741
ISBN-13: 978-0061478741
Author: Tahmima Anam
Publisher: Harper

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