Friday, August 05, 2016

Bangladesh: The Bones of Grace, Tahmima Anam

When I borrowed this from the library, I discovered it was the third in a trilogy. I wondered at reading out of order, but it didn't seem to matter to much as the story stands on its own, with a bit of filling in of earlier events in later chapters.

Zubaida Haque is on the eve of leaving the United States for a paleontology dig in Pakistan when she meets and falls in love with Elijah Strong at a concert. After the political situation in Pakistan causes the dig to go disastrously wrong, she returns to her home in Dhaka, Bangladesh where she marries her childhood friend, Rashid.

There are a number of threads to her story - her two relationships with Elijah and Rashid, her search for her origins (she is adopted) and events that take place in the ship breaking yards of Chittagong. Zubaida is there to translate for a Western woman, who is making a documentary about the lives and conditions of the workers. The passenger liner, the "Grace" is being dismantled for salvage. The Bones of Grace of the title refer to both the ship, and to the bones of the walking whale ambulocetus which were the subject of the dig (and which we return to at the end of the book).

I was surprised to find reviews on the library website which thought the book only average, and that the story was "too complex". I felt the several threads worked in well and the storyline was always clear. Besides, I am a sucker for a bit of scientific geekery such as the walking whale. I found it a beautiful, passionate book and will definitely seek out the earlier two later.

Tahmima Anam was born in Bangladesh but left at the age of two as her parents were working overseas. She returned briefly in her teens. She was named a "Granta Best Young British Novelist". However, she was brought up immersed in Bengali culture, and visits Bangladesh frequently, where the rest of her family still live. So, this is Bangladesh not quite through Western eyes, but through the eyes of someone with a thorough knowledge of both cultures.

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