From the opening paragraph author Tahmima Anam masterfully captivates the reader with her haunting yet vivid descriptions of life set in post war Bangladesh.
The reader lives through the life of a female doctor, her placid yet enigmatic mother and a fervently religious brother who manifests deep rooted psychological trauma. Anam brings something new to a genre that has already been generously explored in recent years. Maya, the ‘crusading doctor’ turned journalist is a woman who defies overbearing social and religious convention. She embodies modernity in a society in which tradition still has a powerful grip on all classes.
Working tirelessly as the only female doctor in villages, Anam instigates horror when Maya relays the story of her friend who is punished with 100 lashes for giving birth to a baby with down’s syndrome.
“He looks like a Chink…Look at his flat nose-did you f*** a Chinese, wife, is that what you did?”
In a society that subjugates and subdues women, Maya found herself inadvertently expelled from that village having been regarded as a scapegoat for this misfortune.
As she returns home to her mother, the domestic saga unfolds with drama, passion and a unique ability to conquer the reader’s emotions.
She is anything but the 'ugly spinster in an ugly sari' that she deems herself to be.
Maya, who resolutely challenges social expectations, and at 32 is adamant on not marrying and turning into “…one of those women, with the jewellery and making perfectly round parathas and doing everything my mother-in-law says…”
Maya’s views on husbands as a genre is equally candid, “They start out all right, but then somewhere along the way, their egos turn to glass and you have to spend your whole life with your arms around them, making them feel better while your own life turns to shit.” Genius.
During Maya’s trajectory, we are introduced to her 6 year old nephew Zaid with whom she forms a unique but contentious relationship.
It is a camaraderie where the struggle between religious teaching and normal schooling is constantly battled.
The reader empathises with her angst as she fights vigorously for Zaid’s basic right to an education with far reaching implications.
Maya's is the type of raw honesty which no-one is ever willing to admit to. Her exasperation with blind faith is a constant theme in the book. ‘“It's up to Him. What's written on your forehead is already written”. Maya hated more than anything, the forehead explanation of life.'.
Maya’s frustration with religion is further brought to surface when her mother asks her to pray before surgery to have a tumour removed. Maya reasons the prayer is unnecessary. 'We have science'.
And even when an old school friend, Saima, compliments her seeing her after years she says, ’”Alhamdulillah, you haven't aged a day, you cruel, cruel woman”. Rather than revel in the compliment Maya admits that 'Saima's Alhamdulillah was bothering her; once upon a time they would have laughed at people referring to God between every other sentence. But now everyone had caught it.'
It is this very 'it' that goes on to plays a significant theme in this book.
We have read the Hanif Qureshi books and recent brilliant offerings such as ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ and ‘The White Tiger’.
‘The Good Muslim’ champions this genre with a female protagonist that all women aspire to emulate.
As a journalist, a woman who is not afraid to speak vocally against the dictator and his brutal regime that shunned the victims of war and that did not bring justice to the female victims.
Unlike the tapestry illustrations that civilised the conduct of war, Anam talks about the grim realities in an inimitable manner. '..scooping bullets out of men with nothing but a spoon and a hunter's knife.' And the woman 'whose captors had shaved her head so that she could not hang herself'
‘The Good Muslim’ is a deeply affecting book that exposes the life of a family in all its raw intimacy. A book that is as relevant today as it was in the era that it was set in, a story told with a brilliant intensity that distinguishes this author’s work.
The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam is published in paperback by Canongate on 3rd May, £8.99