three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
33-Mar-Apr-2008
By: 
Tahmima Anam
user_rating: 
0

A-A Golden AgeIn March 1971, as widow Rehana Haque, her daughter Maya, and her son Sohail attend a party in the Bengali capital of Dhaka, Pakistan invades the country to quell its bid for independence. Torn between admiration and fear for their safety, Rehana protests when Maya leaves to work for the nationalists in Calcutta and Sohail joins a rebel cell in Dhaka. When Sohail asks Rehana to help the revolutionary cause, she reluctantly begins sewing blankets from her silk saris. She is soon hiding weapons on her property and sheltering a wounded officer in her home, willing to do anything—even put herself in mortal danger—for her children.
Harper. 288 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0061478741

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"The story of a widowed mother’s fight to keep her son and daughter safe during Bangladesh’s war for independence functions as both a riveting tale and a lament for the atrocities the people suffered during Pakistan’s invasion in 1971. But the novel is also full of beauty, with Anam celebrating the poetry and food of her homeland." Yvonne Zipp

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Ostensibly a fictional account of one family’s intergenerational revolutionary activities, A Golden Age is truly an illumination on how far a woman will go to protect her children’s bodies and souls. … With A Golden Age, Anam reminds us most forcefully that a mother’s love for her child is the most powerful and frightening weapon there is." Cherie Parker

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Occasionally, the novel’s scenes seem stilted. … But it is [Anam’s] descriptions of the small, unheralded moments, the ones slipping effortlessly between the interstices of major conflagrations, that truly touch the heart." Marianne Villanueva

San Jose Mercury News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"A Golden Age has everything an epic should have—families torn apart by civil war, dreadful choices and betrayals, stolen moments of beauty. But sometimes, stuck at home with Haque, the reader feels the pangs but not the adrenaline rush of the birth of a new nation, the emotion muffling the action." Sandip Roy

Dallas Morning News 3 of 5 Stars
"Golden Age is filled with passages that almost poetically describe the horror of civil war: a captured soldier’s torture and the nonhuman that returns home to his family, the desperation and hopelessness of the refugee camps along the border with India. … Her characters seem one-dimensional, and Rehana is particularly superficial." Angela Shah

Rocky Mountain News 3 of 5 Stars
"The book’s early chapters aren’t as strong as its later ones, so be prepared to invest time in a slow start. Keep reading, and you’ll likely find it’s worth the cost." Traci Macnamara

Critical Summary

Tahmima Anam’s ambitious and powerful debut is the first novel in English to describe Bangladesh’s war for independence, a brutal conflict that left 3 million dead and 10 million homeless. Anam’s attempt to portray the violence and cruelty of political events through the personal experiences of a single family largely succeeds, but some critics felt that the two themes vied for dominance, creating a disjointed plot. While the Dallas Morning News found Anam’s characters flat, the San Jose Mercury News considered Rehana "a beautifully realized character." However, all the critics agreed on Anam’s lush, poetic language and vivid imagery. The first novel in a planned trilogy, A Golden Age will leave readers looking forward to the next installment.