In November 1970, while a cyclone sweeps Bangladesh’s shores, Honufa scurries from her hut in a Chittagong fishing village with her three-year-old son, Shahryar, attempting to reach the safety of the mansion of the zemindar, Rahim. Decades later, Shahryar is in Washington, DC driving his nine-year-old daughter, Anna, to the home of her mother, Valerie. Anna is distraught; Shahryar, having completed his PhD and unable to secure permanent employment, is required to leave the US. Shahryar hires a shady lawyer for advice on various options—some illegal—to remain in the US.
Much earlier, during WWII, the teenaged Honufa helps a Japanese pilot, Ichiro, out of his crashed bomber on a Chittagong beach. Ichiro is treated in a POW hospital by a British doctor, Claire, who has ulterior motives in assisting him. Rahim adopts Shahryar, and he searches anxiously for his birth parents.
Arif Anwar has deftly woven together the lives of ten major and several secondary characters to recount not only their love stories but also the lifestyles of Bangladeshis and their country’s tumultuous history. The story shifts between periods from 1942 to 2004: the WWII years in Burma and Chittagong, India’s Partition in 1947, the 1970 Bhola Cyclone, the 1972 Bangladesh independence, Shahryar’s student life in the US, and even some of the recent problems created by the Rohingya seeking refuge in Bangladesh. Accomplishing such a chronicle in 320 pages, while others might have produced a doorstopper, is remarkable. While the time-switching adds to the intrigue, much use of telling and summary is utilized in the narrative. However, the elegiac quality of the prose is a pleasure to read. Anwar’s PhD level education and work experience with BRAC and UNICEF show in this historically and culturally detailed novel. The open-endedness of some storylines might hint at a sequel. Highly recommended.