Set in pre and post formation period of Bangladesh, Tahmima Anam’s second book, The Good Muslim is about the travails of a family caught in the birth of a nation. The war with Pakistan, its separation and formation in 1971 is the underlying theme for this novel that has been skillfully woven by the author but going back in time, again and again.
After her debut novel A Golden Age, Anam has once again come out with a gripping narrative but alas! Often criss crossing with past and present, thereby not only confusing the reader but breaking the pace of the narrative. The author’s depiction of the happenings of a time period fraught with war and the nation’s and family’s recovery through the eyes of a doctor sister, Maya and her obsession with brother Sohail, makes an interesting read for those who are not familiar with the tumultuous happenings in Bangladesh.
Tahmima Anam follows a haphazard pattern where she jumps and switches from March 1972 to May 1984 and back to April 1972 and again to June 1984, therefore, one gets the feeling she wrote the novel in bits and pieces and weaved them together to stitch a credible novel of a family caught in the web of religion and its far reaching consequences.
Far away from her family for more than a decade, the protagonist, Maya, a doctor who returns home hoping for a reconciliation with her brother Sohail, is not only disappointed but also taken aback by his radical transformation, finding refuge in religion. Both scarred by war and its terrible consequences on the womenfolk of the new country, Maya and Sohail are at loggerheads with each other be it any issue : the upbringing of Zaid (Sohail’s son) Ammoo’s hospitalization or for that matter Piya’s disappearance from their home. In fact, the crises in the family mirrors the problems of the young nation torn asunder by assassinations, dictators, war crimes and of course, criminals let loose amongst the victims.
The second of her trilogy, Tahmima portrays the gradual rise in Islamic fundamentalism in Bangladesh where she writes, “This robed father who lived behind a high wall, behind a string of verses? She felt the bitterness rising in her throat. You put him in danger, Sohail - I tried to tell you.”
Her brother who is now following an extreme cult of Islam is doing it after burning books and foregoing the simple joys of life like avoiding friends, relatives, parties and music. Maya is unable to come to terms with Sohail’s conversion and is pretty upset and frightened about it while her brother clings on to religion to overcome his guilt.
This is a dark tale of a young nation caught between the past and the present through three characters Maya, Sohail and Rehana who have been exposed to the horrors of war of independence in 1971.
A sequel to the first novel, The Good Muslim depicts how Sohail becomes a good Muslim and in turn, builds up a following for himself while his sister Maya remains untouched by religious bigotry.