The Good Muslim (Bangladesh)

book coverby Tahmima Anam

Courtesy of a special order from Auntie’s Bookstore

Wow. A great look at the complex lives of an ordinary single-parent family in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Rich with the sounds, scents and sights of life in Bengal.

Maya and her brother were freedom fighters in the war for Bangladeshi independence in the early 1970s. Now, they must try to put their lives back together. When Maya’s brother takes a right turn into extreme Islam, she refuses to accept it, and tries to rescue her brother’s son, Zaid, from the extremist lifestyle.

She wants her brother to feed him better, look after the scabs on his skin, see that he’s washed and learns not to cheat at cards or steal money from people’s purses, not to lie, and most of all, to send him to school.

MAP OF BANGLADESHBut control isn’t love, as Maya soon finds out. Although she herself is partially seduced by the simple faith of the “people upstairs”, she despises their ignorance in turning their backs on Western ideals, Western furniture, books, and light sockets. She refuses to see anything good in her brother’s faith, or to acknowledge how important it is to Sohail.

Can We Read It? Yes, We Can

The style of writing is easy –no purple prose here, just good storytelling that pulls you right through the plot even when what you’re reading is horrific. Like all the Bangladeshi women who were raped by Pakistani soldiers and now can’t return home to their families. (Many elect to fly to Pakistan, to leave their “shame” behind them.) Like the village woman who is given 101 lashes by a group of village men when she has a Down’s Syndrome baby (the husband accuses her of cheating, since the baby looks like a “Chink”.)

Fort in Daka
Fort in Dhaka

In these days of Islamaphobia, it is refreshing to be in the head of Maya’s brother Sohail, who finds a peace in Islam that has eluded him ever since the terrible war. And the terrible thing he did. To feel the soothing kindness of Sister Khadija. But to also feel, through Maya’s eyes, the blind selfishness of Sohail, who sacrifices his son’s needs before his own. Who sends his son back to the madrasa out of arrogance and selfish uncaring, when his son has already told him what is happening there.

The resolution of the novel, after a tragedy, is perfect and left me appreciating one of those “ah ha” moments that happen in life all too rarely. If this were just a novel of clashing faiths, changing culture, and warring countries, it would have been ok. But because the author focused on the family element, the love and hate and control and disgust and expectation and exasperation and tolerance and joy and the whole juicy, hairy, complicated mango, it was great.

Five spicy samosas with lots of chilis!

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