A Golden Age
Tahmina Anam, the author of this first novel, begins powerfully: “Dear Husband, I lost our children today.” The voice is that of Rehanna, a young widow who has been forced to hand her children to her brother-in-law because she has no money. Fast-forward to years later, to 1971, when Rehanna’s children, Sohail and Maya, are young adults. Rehanna still celebrates the anniversary of their return, keeping secret how she managed to bring it about. Her problem is basically the same: how she can hang on to them. Now, however, the world around them is crumbling. Bangladesh is separating from Pakistan, and her children are involved in the separatist struggle. It is a foregone conclusion when they ask their mother to hide a wounded rebel. Their mother can’t say no. More interestingly, Rehanna falls in love with him.
Still, through war, massacres and refugee camps, Rehanna is more a witness than an active participant. Her world continues to be circumscribed entirely to that of her children. The setting is intriguing and the landscape, at times, vivid. Unfortunately, Rehanna’s oppressive relationship with her children overwhelms everything else. “It’s not your fault. Whatever it was, it can’t have been your fault,” Rehanna tells her son at one point. Her tiresome devotion all but drowns A Golden Age. When the climax comes, and she must make a choice, it is predictable.