While I was home last week recovering from surgery, I had time to read several books. One that I found especially compelling was "A Golden Age," a first novel by Tahmima Anam. The daughter of diplomats, Anam grew up far away from her native Bangladesh but felt the need to describe that country's war of independence in the 1970s through the eyes of a close-knit family struggling to survive.
A Golden Age revolves around the family of a widow named Rehana who struggles to remain close to her two children, now young adults who become political active in the cause of independence. In interviews, Anam says the character of Rehana was inspired by the author's own grandmother, and a small but important role that she played in the war of independence from Pakistan.
When Anam, who now lives in Britain, began her novel, she says that she had a very different sort of story in mind.
"I thought I would write a sort of epic," Anam told National Public Radio in an interview, "...a very muscular narrative that had battle scenes and political rallies and all the sorts of big moments that you see in war novels. But actually, when I sat down to write, I ended up really thinking about what it was like for ordinary people to survive that war."
To my mind, Anam's approach has worked very well. Very quickly, the reader understands just how precious Rehana's son and daughter are to her -- and the lengths to which she will go to protect them. Through this small family, and their loose network of friends, the story of Bangladesh's struggle for independence becomes more human, more personal, and easier to understand.
Anam interviewed people who had lived through the war, which broke out in 1971, between what was then East and West Pakistan. She also relied on her own family's recollections of the war and their experiences. Her grandmother provided food and shelter for younger fighters at great personal risk, an experience reflected in the novel.
A Golden Age, published last year, was shortlisted for The Guardian newspaper's First Book award and was also shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award. I highly recommend it!