Savage short stories reveal snapshots of life in contemporary Bangladesh.
It’s been over 50 years since Bangladesh gained independence from the British, but whiffs of old colonial and feudal attitudes remain. In his U.S. debut collection, Zaman dives into the heart of everyday life in Dhaka. It becomes quickly apparent that the feudal structure born in the villages has moved to the capital. In “The Father & The Judge,” a vulnerable Shamsher Ali travels from his village in Sylhet to plead with the last scion of the powerful Qureshi family for protection. Shamsher’s daughter is being harassed in the village, where the Qureshi name still carries power. “Nobody will come near her if they know she has your protection,” Ali implores. The uneven servant-employer dynamic plays out to nuanced effect in the two stories that bookend the collection: the title story and “The Forced Witness.” By focusing these stories squarely on the “help”—the homeowners who are the employers are away in each instance—Zaman expertly reveals the complicated power plays between the various employees. In “Main House,” Kabir is embarrassed and uneasy when his wife, Anwara, plays house in the owners’ home, trying on the woman's clothes and sleeping in the master bedroom. In "Forced Witness," fellow employees rally to help an aging Noor Muhammad, who is subject to police brutality after a theft in the home they are charged with guarding. A vein of dark humor runs through these stories where characters can sniff out vulnerabilities a mile away. “It doesn’t take much to know that you’re burdened with guilt. But I don’t judge you for it,” says a young man to Rosie, the “Happy Widow” who hides a dark secret.
A collection that stands out just as much for what remains lurking in the dark as what lies dissected and exposed in full view.