Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Book: Killing the Water

It was with great interest that I read Ulysses' recent blog post about Mahmud Rahman's new book, Killing the Water.

The stories cover a lot of ground. They deal with themes ranging from the 1971 War of Liberation to racial violence experienced by a fresh immigrant in the United States. In between, we sample generous helpings of relationships and symbolism, unexpected multi-racial bondings, intimate details of Bangladeshi culture and affectionate remembrances of the way things were in that land in mid-20th century. And as you might expect, lots of water - ponds, rivers, rain, storms and cyclones.

Two things stand out about the collection. First is the depiction of details of rural Bangladesh in the mid-20th century. An example is the Tabij that Altaf, the protagonist of City Shoes in the Village, receives from his mother, and how he reacts to it. Some descriptions are almost photographic: eg, the way Moni scoops up the coconut flesh after drinking his Daab (Before the Monsoons Come), and the subtly class-conscious interaction between Reza the insurgent and the mango-seller (The Interrogation.)

The second is treatment of the migrant's experience of not quite belonging. In your heart of hearts, you don't really belong there because you are the perpetual newcomer. And since you have left home, you don't quite belong here, either. So you take refuge with other migrants of similar experiences (Yuralda, Neela) or people at the fringe (Carlotta.) This neurosis travels backward in time to afflict Moni (who should be a freedom fighter but cannot), and Altaf (who by throwing away the Tabij makes a valiant attempt to cut all ties to his own roots.)

Unfortunately, I'm running into the same obstacle that plagues bideshis who years for a little Bangla culture - we can't find it. Amazon doesn't have a listing for the book (neither the US nor the UK stores). I found the listing at the Penguin India website, but when I tried to order it direct I was told that it's already sold out!

UPDATE: The book is available for sale worldwide from I ordered my copy today.

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