In the free-standing second installment of her planned trilogy about Bangladesh, Anam (A Golden Age, 2008) transfers her focus from a mother who sacrificed so much before and during the war for national independence to her children, grown and at odds in the revolution’s painful aftermath.
The narration shifts between the mid-1980s, when disillusioned Bangladeshis find themselves under the rule of a corrupt dictatorship, and the ’70s, when the war has just ended. In the ’70s, Maya, studying medicine, is first stupefied, then enraged by the changes in her brother Sohail. Her protector as a child, then a socialist intellectual and heroic soldier, Sohail gradually withdraws into narrow religious faith. The philosophically opposed siblings goad each other until Maya leaves. In 1984, after seven years away, Maya returns to her mother’s home from the rural community where she’s been practicing medicine. Sohail, now a religious leader with a growing following, has become even more entrenched and inflexible. Although his wife has recently died, he is too busy tending to his devotees to pay attention to his small son Zaid. Neither in the ’70s nor ’80s does Maya know or understand what Sohail experienced as a soldier that has made the safety of rigid belief so attractive. But when her mother becomes seriously ill, Maya herself finds solace, however short-lived, in praying with the cloistered women devoted to Sohail. At the same time, she is drawn to political activism and to Sohail’s seemingly cynical old friend Joy, who has spent time in the United States. And she is intermittently concerned about Zaid, a troubled child starving for affection. Then Sohail, genuinely concerned in his own misguided fashion, decides to send Zaid away to a fundamentalist madrassa. Even after the crisis that ensues, Sohail remains more than a scary fundamentalist while Maya finds a way to recover from her own mistakes.
Throughout the novel’s extremes of violence and tragedy, Anam always allows the ultimate humanity of the characters to shine through.