An ambitious novel presents a tragic story of love and strife during Bangladesh’s Liberation War.
Two idealistic students discover just how dirty a game politics can be in this romantic thriller from Havel (Charlie Zero’s Last-Ditch Attempt, 2014). Readers meet Amina Mitra and Raja Gupta in 1969, optimistic college students from the first generation born after East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and West Pakistan were partitioned from India after World War II. They meet on registration day at Dhaka University, join the nationalist cause, and gradually fall in love. But there are obstacles (“Dating wasn’t an option in East Pakistan. The children simply grew to a certain age, and then their parents gave them away to the husband of their choosing”). To make matters worse, Raja is Hindu and Amina is Muslim; in the charged political atmosphere of a revolutionary land, simply holding hands on the street is sufficient to land them in jail, or worse. Both are political idealists, working to gradually liberate the nation of their birth from the manipulative and homogenizing influence of Islamabad, but Bangladesh is a small country trapped between the conflicting interests of the major powers during the Cold War. (Pakistan is President Richard Nixon’s door to China—the weapons Amina and Raja fear falling prey to are American-made.) As their romance deepens, the young couple find their idealism manipulated, the worlds of politics and spycraft both cogs in “a multi-layered machine that already understood that human beings were essentially animals and had to be controlled whenever their chain of command saw fit.” As Havel leads his readers from idyllic Bengali villages and cruel interrogation cubes to paradisiacal Calcutta hotels and the hidden slums of Mecca, he presents not only vivid personalities, but a compelling vision of history as well. At one point, Raja muses about the Indians and Pakistanis: “The Indians seemed happier, while the Pakistanis were always paranoid of India’s culture. India appeared to be living in peace, while Pakistan existed in a perpetual state of war and unrest.” Havel understands how the abstruse mechanizations of geopolitical brinksmanship can influence everything, from whispering lovers to struggling nations. Readers should feel caught up in the events of half a century ago as though they were happening now (which, in some impoverished country, they assuredly are).
A suspenseful romance between a Hindu and a Muslim, and a nerve-racking historical tale.