Mar 14, 2012

The Good Muslim, by Tahmima Anam

What a beautiful book! Set alternately right after the independence of Bangladesh in 1972 and about a decade later, this gem of a book follows Maya, a headstrong doctor who escapes her changed brother by running a women's clinic in the country for several years. Maya is a firm believer in secularism, and cringes and cries out as she watches her new country, and her brother, slowly veer back towards religious conservatism. She struggles against this movement towards what she considers the evil of their former occupiers.

This narrative is about Maya, but the story is the time old attempt to put a recognizable face onto the atrocities of war. Maya's battle to bring recognition to the war crimes that are not so easy to deal with - the raping of women and the abortions they had to endure due to their beloved leader's insistence that no spawn of evil should live - echoes Anam's own attempt to acknowledge the need for a national reassessment.

Going into this book, I knew next to nothing about Bangladesh, but now I feel I know a lot more. It sheds some light on our time, provides a possible explanation for the current resurgence in religiosity and conservatism that seems so baffling to people of a liberal bent. We have all done horrible things, Anam seems to say, and we must all deal with them in our own way. To deny someone their means of living with what they have done and seen will merely push them further into the abyss. Anam is a gifted and meaningful writer, and I hope to read more of her work in the future.

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