Events both immense—like the painful birth of a nation—and humdrum are observed through the eyes of a child from a wealthy Bengali family, in an unusual novel-as-memoir by a celebrated British author.
Zaved Mahmood is the husband of writer Hensher (The Missing Ink, 2012, etc.), and it’s Zaved’s stories of childhood which feed this richly-detailed fiction evoking life in Dacca, Pakistan, in a large, comfortable, extended family, while also subtly introducing disturbing glimpses of a growing social divide. Zaved recalls his childhood years, playing in the garden of his grandfather, the president of the East Pakistan Income Tax Lawyers' Association. Zaved’s father is a lawyer too and so, eventually, will the son become. We glimpse the boy’s parents, siblings, uncles and aunts, meet his pet chicken and journey with him to the village where the family originated. But these low-key early scenes are threaded with hints of oppression. Zaved’s family is Bengali, and their culture is coming under increasingly suppression by the Urdu-speaking government. In 1971, after an election, violence flares into a terrible, eight-month war of independence. The family, huddled together for safety, witnesses the bloodshed firsthand but survives, and episodic family life, its dramas and feuds, resumes.
Neither history nor autobiography, this well-crafted, illustrated hybrid offers insight and warmth yet remains something of a literary curiosity.