The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

WoWasis book review: ‘The Good Muslim’ by Tahmima Anam from Bangladesh

Written By: herbrunbridge - Apr• 04•13

AnamGoodMuslimBangladeshi author Tahmima Anam’s novel, The Good Muslim (2011, ISBN 978 984 8765 90 6) isn’t all that easy to suss out, if you’re neither conversant in Islamic theory nor recent Bangladeshi history. A little background information, such as an understanding of the struggle that carved Bangladesh out of East Pakistan, is helpful. So is some knowledge of the different facets of Islam.

Maya, Anam’s heroine, is caught between her affections for her young nephew, the religious aspirations of her increasingly fundamentalist brother, and the philosophies of various other friends and family members. The overriding element of the story is the essentially powerlessness of women in an Islamic society. And make no mistake about it, today’s Bangladesh is Islamic, as Western visitors have discovered. Getting a beer in the capital of Dhaka isn’t easy. In other cities and towns, it’s nearly impossible, unless one is a member of a private club. But, of course, the story isn’t about beer.

Maya’s young nephew’s comings and goings provide the vehicle that dictates the action in much of the book. He’s a troubled child, stealing and having attention problems. His mother has recently died. Her brother’s concern that Maya teaches his son to play cards and learn foreign languages convinces him to send him to a remote madrasa (Islamic school), and soon, Maya finds that he’s being physically abused, presumably sexually. Her decision to take action flies in the face of the law, her brother, and fundamental Islamist beliefs in the respective roles of men and women.

Much of the fiction coming out of Bangladesh today is written by women, and the theme of liberation, for society and women in general, is a topic at the forefront of the writings of many of today’s Bangladeshi authors. The oppression of women in societies such as Bangladesh’s is anathema to many of us living in the west, who’ve never experienced living in a geographical area in which women are presumed guilty in virtually any situation where men are the accusers. It’s a suffocating experience for the reader, who desperately wants logic to prevail through a story in which logic has no place, where books are burned, and where aspirations are stifled. For the Westerner, it’s a frustrating read, and reminiscent of the film Ramparts of Clay, 1971 French drama directed by Jean-Louis Bertucelli, the story of an Algerian village woman living in an oppressive culture with few positive options. Anam’s first book, The Golden Age, won the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for Best First Book. The Good Muslim is her second, and a worthwhile foray into the nuts and bolts of a society that struggles with the goals and aspirations of a significant percentage of its population. Buy it here at the WoWasis eStore.

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