With this story about a contemporary Harvard-educated Bangladeshi woman struggling to be true to herself as well as her heritage, Anam completes her three-generation trilogy about Bangladesh.
Anam’s A Golden Age (2008) tells the story of the Bangladesh civil war against Pakistan through the eyes of a widow who makes self-sacrificing choices for the sake of her children. Set more than a decade later, The Good Muslim (2011) focuses on the widow’s daughter, Maya, now a doctor. Now comes this book-length narrative from Maya’s adopted daughter, Zubaida, to Elijah, the American lover she has forsaken but hopes to win back with her written explanation, a form that allows Anam to introduce names and snatches of information as foreshadowings that she fleshes out later. A highly educated paleontologist, Zubaida always expected to return home to Bangladesh and marry Rashid, whom she’s known all her life as the son of her parents’ closest friends. But then she meets philosophy grad-school dropout Elijah at a Shostakovich concert only days before leaving her lab in Cambridge for a dig in Pakistan. The chemistry is immediate, and when Zubaida gets to Pakistan, they communicate through song lyrics. But the dig, where she hoped to find the complete skeleton of Ambulocetus natans, a whale that lived on both land and in the sea, goes tragically wrong. Zubaida flies home to Bangladesh, where Rashid presses marriage. Longing for Elijah, she finally lets Rashid's and their families’ wishes prevail, but one day into the marriage she realizes “the depths of [her] mistake." After a miscarriage, she finds temporary respite interviewing mistreated workers taking apart ships in the port town of Chittagong. There, her romantic confusion comes to a crisis point, as does her growing obsession with finding her biological roots.
Taken alone, the narrator's self-absorption would be grating, but her story resonates powerfully within the saga of three generations of women personifying Bangladesh’s evolution from the clarity of revolution to the confusions of assimilation with the larger world.