Friday, March 14, 2008

Bangladeshi author wins Comonwealth Writer's Prize

Bangladeshi author Tahmima Anam was awarded the Commonwealth Writer's Prize for her novel, A Golden Age, a novel the Christian Science Monitor called "full of beauty", and the Denver Post reviewed as a " vibrant first novel...that is both intimately close to the family and large enough to encompass a revolution", and heralded by The Guardian as "a stunning debut".

The Daily Star reports,

An international judging panel has awarded the 2008 Commonwealth Writers' Prize Best First Book Award for the Europe and South Asia region to A Golden Age (2007, London: John Murray) by Tahmima Anam. The novel, a densely packed, lyrically written narrative set during Bangladesh's 1971 war of independence, was praised by the panel as “sensitive and evocative.” Animal's People by Indra Sinha was given the region's Best Book Award. A Golden Age had previously also made the final shortlist of five for the 2007 Guardian's First Book Award.

Anam, on hearing the news, responded to The Guardian newspaper that "Over the years, many of my most cherished authors have been winners of the Commonwealth Prize, and I'm deeply honoured to have been given the chance to be counted among them. I'm particularly proud to be representing my country as the first regional winner from Bangladesh."

At just under 300 pages, Anam's A Golden Age is a quick read. In fact, I think I could have easily inhaled the entire thing in one afternoon. As it was, I read it on the subway to and from work over the course of three days.

A Golden Age is the story of Rehana Haque, a middle class Dhakaite widow who has struggled all her life to provide for her children, Sohail and Maya. Above all, Rehana wants what all mothers want - for her children to be safe and happy.

Sohail and Maya grow into young adulthood along with their country. As Sheikh Mujib is arrested and Gen. Zia declares independence, the liberation war threatens the stability of the Haque family. Rehana faces a choice between what's best for her children and what's best for her country. Or is there a difference?

The character development in this novel is exceptional, and the imagery at times both stark and touchingly beautiful. I closed the book hungry for more, and missing my newly found friends.

Congratulations to Anam on her prize, and let's all hope this will give more attention to the brilliant literary culture in Bangladesh.

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