From The Guardian:
Tahmima Anam’s stunning novel A Golden Age lays bare a mother’s ordeal in the gulf between the two Pakistans, says Clemency Burton-Hill.
Bangladesh used to be East Pakistan and full of questions about its identity. ‘What sense did it make,’ its people wonder in this novel, ‘to have a country in two halves, poised on either side of India like a pair of horns?’ For Rehana Haque, a young Urdu-speaking widow born in the western ‘horn’ but living in 1971 in the Bengali East, the chasm dividing Pakistan has long been metaphorical as well as geographic. It was to the West that her two small children had been sent in 1959 after she lost a court appeal to keep them. This loss defines Rehana’s life. When war comes in 1971, she discovers that, for all her inability to ‘replace her mixed tongue with a pure Bengali one’, it is the East that is now ‘home’; it is Bangladesh for which she will make the greatest sacrifices.
A Golden Age is a stunning debut. Anam writes of torture, brutality, refugees and desperation, but she also writes of love and joy, food and song. There is a moment when Rehana cannot make out her own feelings – ‘it could have been a smile, or it could have been a grimace,’ she thinks. ‘And the tickle in her throat could have been a chuckle or it could have been tears. It was mixed up: sad; funny; unfunny.’ This is an apt description of the novel itself.