Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Good Muslim by Tahima Anam -- Partisan but Solid Tale of a Young Nation, Family, and Religion

I confess....I hurried to finish this one to get the review up before my absence.

When I selected The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam as an advance read from my lovely Harper friends, I didn't realize that it was the second book in a series of three about a Bangladeshi family.  It may have been a different read had I read the prior novel, but I didn't feel disadvantaged by that and TGM can stand fine on its own.  I think I've steered clear of my love for 3.5 stars for a while, but this novel calls me back to it and I'm quite torn on rounding for the half-star phobic sites.  I've decided to go up to 4 stars, but it is with a bit of hesitation.

There are two time periods addressed in TGW, the mid/late-70s immediately following the revolution that gave Bangladesh its independence and the mid-80s when it is ruled by an unnamed Dictator whom many feel went back on the principles for which they'd fought.  I'll admit to very little knowledge of this history.  The protagonist is a female doctor who was part of the revolutionary fight and, in the latter time frame, is returning home after having spent a number of years as a rural ob/gyn.  She had left in large part due to differences that arose when her brother made a very strong turn towards religion that alienated her and she returns upon his wife's death.  The family also includes their mother and the brother's son, a child who has received very little attention and with whom the doctor quickly bonds.

There are a thematic number of threads running through here.  There is the question of the revolution's success given the turn from initially liked leader to a dictator.  There is the issue of religion and fanaticism, including the impact it has when it is put ahead of family and other matters.  There is also a strong element of gender dynamics as the woman doctor relates stories of her patients, the suffering of women during and after the war as a result of rape being used as a weapon, and the doctor's own uncertainty about marriage and her career.  The author does a solid job pulling all this off, although it does feel pretty slanted and pointed.

The prose is pleasant and deep without being overpowering.  My hesitancy is in large part due to the fact that it feels overtly partisan.  Ironically, I don't necessarily disagree with the positions advanced but I do prefer authors who lead you to your own answers rather than pretty much wave them in front of you.  It is a good read, 3.5 stars is a solid rating in my world and is positive (I'm tough...when I was part of judging for admission to a journal in law school, they apparently noted that and would round an entry up if it was borderline and I was part of the panel).  I'd read the other books if they appeared on my table and maybe if I saw a stellar deal on them, but I also can't see myself seeking them out. 

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