Golden Age

Golden Age

4.2 13
by Tahmima Anam

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As young widow Rehana Haque awakes one March morning, she might be forgiven for feeling happy. Today she will throw a party for her son and daughter. In the garden of the house she has built, her roses are blooming, her children are almost grown, and beyond their doorstep, the city is buzzing with excitement after recent elections. Change is in the air.

But none


As young widow Rehana Haque awakes one March morning, she might be forgiven for feeling happy. Today she will throw a party for her son and daughter. In the garden of the house she has built, her roses are blooming, her children are almost grown, and beyond their doorstep, the city is buzzing with excitement after recent elections. Change is in the air.

But none of the guests at Rehana's party can foresee what will happen in the days and months ahead. For this is 1971 in East Pakistan, a country on the brink of war. And this family's life is about to change forever.

Set against the backdrop of the Bangladesh War of Independence, A Golden Age is a story of passion and revolution, of hope, faith and unexpected heroism. In the chaos of this era, everyone—from student protesters to the country's leaders, from rickshaw'wallahs to the army's soldiers—must make choices. And as she struggles to keep her family safe, Rehana will be forced to face a heartbreaking dilemma.

Editorial Reviews

Wendy Smith
Tahmima Anam's first novel is a generous act of creative empathy. Born in Bangladesh four years after the nation won its independence from Pakistan, the author grew up abroad and now lives in London. Yet from her family's stories and her own research, she has crafted a compelling tale steeped in her native land's diverse culture.
—The Washington Post
Michael Gorra
Once the war takes hold, Anam finds her subject in Rehana's fierce love for her children, in the story of what she is willing to do to keep them alive. The novel's language grows more confident, and history itself becomes an animating force. Rehana travels to Calcutta and works at a refugee camp, then returns to Dhaka at the height of the crisis. The second half of the novel acquires a taut, electric air, and I turned its pages as greedily as if it were a thriller.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

The experiences of a woman drawn into the 1971 Bangladesh war for independence illuminate the conflict's wider resonances in Anam's impressive debut, the first installment in a proposed trilogy. Rehana Haque is a widow and university student in Dhaka with two children, 17-year-old daughter Maya and 19-year-old son Soheil. As she follows the daily patterns of domesticity-cooking, visiting the cemetery, marking religious holidays-she is only dimly aware of the growing political unrest until Pakistani tanks arrive and the fighting begins. Suddenly, Rehana's family is in peril and her children become involved in the rebellion. The elegantly understated restraint with which Anam recounts ensuing events gives credibility to Rehana's evolution from a devoted mother to a woman who allows her son's guerrilla comrades to bury guns in her backyard and who shelters a Bengali army major after he is wounded. The reader takes the emotional journey from atmospheric scenes of the marketplace to the mayhem of invasion, the ruin of the city, evidence of the rape and torture of Hindus and Bengali nationalists, and the stench and squalor of a refugee camp. Rehana's metamorphosis encapsulates her country's tragedy and makes for an immersive, wrenching narrative. (Jan.)

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Library Journal

Mother love is at the heart of this impressive first novel by the Bangladeshi-born, American-educated Anam. Protagonist Rehana Haque has long regretted the time after the early death of her husband, when she allowed a relative to take away her son and daughter for a year. During the 1971 war for Bangladesh's independence, she finds an opportunity for redemption. Readers follow an involving thread about the ragtag, grassroots campaign to escape the oppressive Pakistani regime, though the narrative as a whole stays close to Rehana, as she worries about the dangers facing her young adult children, who dive into the struggle. The Bangladeshi forces are successful, but at a great cost. The climax involving a sacrificial choice Rehana must make is gripping and moving. Though touted as the first novel written in English about the Bangladesh war, the novel echoes Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Lossand Anita Desai's Clear Light of Day, which let readers experience political upheaval on the Indian subcontinent through powerful family drama. Recommended for all libraries.
—Evelyn Beck

Kirkus Reviews
This remarkably moving and assured debut, the first in a planned trilogy, tells the story of Bangladesh's 1971 war for independence through the eyes of a widow who will do anything to ensure her children's survival. The widow Rehana has remade her life more than once. With her once wealthy Muslim family, she was forced to leave Calcutta for Karachi during Partition; after an arranged marriage she moved to Dhaka with her husband; when her husband died, she temporarily lost her children to her wealthy brother-in-law back in Karachi, until she found the financial means-how and where is her shameful secret-to bring them back a year later. Ten years later, Rehana lives contentedly with her son Sohail and daughter Maya, both politically active students at the local university. Then civil war breaks out and her children sweep Rehana into political events. Sohail, who has always been a pacifist, joins the resistance fighters. Maya, whose best friend has been raped and murdered by the Pakistanis, becomes a resistance spokeswoman. Anam keeps Rehana grounded in a daily routine-there are evocative scenes of cooking, of sewing blankets out of saris, of going to market-that brings Bangladesh to life amid the chaos and carnage of the war. Soon Rehana is hiding not only supplies and armaments on her property, but also a wounded resistance officer. At first she resents him for his role in endangering her son's life, but growing to love him, as years earlier she grew to love her husband, she confides the secret theft that gave her financial survival and her guilt at losing her children even temporarily. Ultimately, she must make a final horrendous sacrifice to keep them safe again. Rehana is a memorableliterary achievement, exemplifying motherhood in all its complexity and intensity. That her relationships with her children are difficult, often prickly, only makes her maternal passion that much more believable and heartrending. Panoramic in its sense of history, intensely personal in its sense of drama-a wonderfully sad yet joyous read. Agent: Peter Straus/Rogers, Coleridge & White, Ltd.
Women's Review of Books
"Written with marvelous control and understatement, this first novel impressed me with its maturity."
USA Today
"[A] wonderful addition to the growing list of novels that seek, in some way, to help us understand the history and people of South Asia."
Entertainment Weekly
"eventful, exotic, intelligent, and romantic"
O magazine
“Compelling…Anam is cracking open secrets, personal and political, to let the healing begin.”
The New Yorker
"In this striking debut novel . . . Anam deftly weaves the personal and the political, giving the terrors of war spare, powerful treatment while lyrically depicting the way in which the struggle for freedom allows Rehana to discover both her strength and her heart."
Minneapolis Star Tribune
"An illumination on how far a woman will go to protect her children’s bodies and souls . . . Anam reminds us most forcefully that a mother’s love for her child is the most powerful and frightening weapon there is."
Washington Post Book World
"Readable and well crafted . . . Compelling . . . A generous act of creative empathy . . . Anam does not flinch from complexity and horror of a more intimate nature than the details of atrocities."
San Jose Mercury News
"A GOLDEN AGE has everything an epic should have...[Anam] is able to convey the larger story of politics and war against a much smaller and more intimate story."
San Francisco Chronicle
"Told with great skill and urgency…Spellbinding in its sense of quiet foreboding…Anam has written a story about powerful events. But it is her descriptions of the small, unheralded moments, the ones slipping effortlessly between the interstices of major conflagrations, which truly touch the heart."
St. Petersburg Times
"A glittering debut…Readers of Khaled Hosseini’s brutal but magnificent A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS will find similar pleasures in Anam’s book."
Christian Science Monitor
"Moving…Full of beauty…Both a riveting tale and a lament for the atrocities the people suffered during Pakistan’s invasion in 1971 …The novel just keeps getting stronger as it progresses…building to a doozy of an ending."
Denver Post
"A vibrant first novel…A story that is both intimately close to the family and large enough to encompass a revolution."
Rocky Mountain News
"Anam’s story gains momentum as its characters take shape…Readers will feel the depth of this nation’s crisis through its people, and the conclusion delivers a surprising blow."
O Magazine
"Compelling…Anam is cracking open secrets, personal and political, to let the healing begin."
Pankaj Mishra
"Tahmima Anam’s startlingly accomplished and gripping novel describes not only the tumult of a great historical event…but also the small but heroic struggles of individuals living in the shadow of revolution and war."

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.05(d)

Read an Excerpt

A Golden Age
A Novel

Chapter One

March 1971

Shona with her back to the sun

Every year, Rehana held a party at Road 5 to mark the day she had returned to Dhaka with the children. She saved her meat rations and made biryani. She rented chairs and called the jilapi-wallah to fry the hot, looping sweets in the garden. There was a red-and-yellow tent in case of rain, lemonade in case of heat, cucumber salad, spicy yoghurt. The guests were always the same: her neighbour Mrs Chowdhury and her daughter Silvi; her tenants, the Senguptas, and their son, Mithun; and Mrs Rahman and Mrs Akram, better known as the gin-rummy ladies.

So, on the first morning of March, as on the first morning of every March for a decade, Rehana rose before dawn and slipped into the garden. She shivered a little and rubbed her elbows as she made her way across the lawn. Winter still lingered on the leaves and in the wisps of fog that rolled over the delta and hung low over the bungalow.

She dipped her fingers into the rosebush, heavy with dew, and plucked a flower. She held it in her hand as she wandered through the rest of the garden, ducking between the wall-hugging jasmine and the hibiscus, crossing the tiny vegetable patch that was giving them the last of the season's cauliflower, zigzagging past the mango tree, the lemon tree, the shouting-green banana tree.

She looked up at the building that would slowly, over the course of the day, cast a long shadow over her little bungalow. Shona. She could still hear Mrs Chowdhury telling her to build the new house at the back of her property. 'Such a big plot,' she'd said, peeringout of the window; 'you can't even see the boundary it's so far away. You don't need all that space.'

'Should I sell it?'

Mrs Chowdhury snapped her tongue. 'Na, don't sell it.'

'Then what?'

'Build another house.'

'What would I do with another house?'

'Rent, my dear. Rent it out.'

Now there were two gates, two driveways, two houses. The new driveway was a narrow passage that opened into the back of Rehana's plot. On the plot stood the house she had built to save her children. It towered above the bungalow, its two whitewashed storeys overlooking the smaller house. Like the bungalow, it had been built with its back to the sun. The house was nearly ten years old now, and a little faded. Ten monsoons had softened its edges and drawn meandering, old-age seams into the walls. But every day, as Rehana woke for the dawn Azaan, or when she went to put the washing in the garden, or when, after bathing, she fanned out her long hair on the back of a veranda chair, Rehana looked at the house with pride and a little ache. It was there to remind her of what she had lost, and what she had won. And how much the victory had cost. That is why she had named it Shona, gold. It wasn't just because of what it had taken to build the house, but for all the precious things she wanted never to lose again.

Rehana turned back to the bungalow and entered the drawing room. She ran her palm across the flat fur of the velvet sofa, the dimpled wood of the dining table. The scratched, loved, faded whitewash of the veranda wall.

She unfurled her prayer mat, pointed it westwards and sank to her knees.

This was the start of the ritual: wake before sunrise, feel her way around the house; pray; wake the children.

They were not children any more. She had to keep reminding herself of this fact. At nineteen and seventeen, they were almost grown up. She clung greedily to the almost, but she knew it would not last long, this hovering, flirting with adulthood. Already they were beings apart, fast on their way to shedding the fierce, hungry mother-need.

Rehana lifted the mosquito net and nudged Maya's shoulder. 'Wake up, jaan,' she said. 'It's our anniversary!'

She went to Sohail's room and knocked, but he was already awake. 'For you,' she said, holding out the rose.

While the children took turns in the bath, Rehana ironed their new clothes. This year she had chosen an egg-blue sari for herself and a blue georgette with yellow polka dots for Maya. For Sohail there was a brown kurta-pyjama. She had embroidered the purple flowers on the collar herself.

'Ammoo,' Maya said, 'I have to go to campus after the party—I can't wear this.'

'I'm sure your activist friends won't mind if you don't wear white for one day.'

'You wouldn't understand,' she retorted, tucking the sari under her elbow anyway.

After they had all bathed and put on their new clothes, the children took turns touching Rehana's feet. 'God bless you,' she said, hugging them tightly, their strong, tanned arms around her neck almost beyond her imagination.

They were both taller than her. Maya had passed Rehana by a few inches, and Sohail was a full head and shoulders above them both; Rehana was often reminded of the moment she'd met Iqbal, hunched over the wedding dais, how he had towered over her like a thunder cloud. But in fact Sohail had grown to resemble Rehana. He was pale and had her small nose and her slightly crooked teeth; his hair was fashioned into a wave at the top of his head, the crest threatening to tip over his eyelids. Sometimes, like today, he wore kurta-pyjamas, but usually he was seen in more fashionable attire: tight, long-collared shirts and even tighter trousers that hung over his shoes and drew tracks in the dust.

It was Maya who looked more like her father. She had his chestnut skin and deep-set eyes that made her look serious even when she was trying to say something funny or make a joke—which rarely happened—but Rehana had often seen her friends pause and look at each other, wondering whether to laugh.

A Golden Age
A Novel
. Copyright © by Tahmima Anam. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. <%END%>

What People are saying about this

Pankaj Mishra
“Tahmima Anam’s startlingly accomplished and gripping novel describes not only the tumult of a great historical event…but also the small but heroic struggles of individuals living in the shadow of revolution and war.”

Meet the Author

Tahmima Anam was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and grew up in Paris, Bangkok, and New York. She holds a Ph.D. in social anthropology from Harvard University. Her writing has been published in Granta, the New York Times, the Guardian, and the Financial Times. A Golden Age, her first novel, was the winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book. She lives in London and Dhaka.

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Golden Age 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Can you show me again
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Come on everyone I am holding a clan meeting back at camp."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Follows..moonpaw and sunpaw raced out...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A wonderful novel that explores the consequences of genocide and war on motherhood and family. Beautifully written, bursting with vivid imagery and heart wrenching emotion. Can one find gold beneath the debris? How does it feel to lose one's children twice? A must read for all interested in post-colonial literature and the tragedies we choose not to see.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found this novel to be intriguing and heart wrenching. Having no real knowledge of the story of Bangledesh, the historical backdrop to this book was interesting, and the profound love this mother feels for her children to resonate.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book from the beginning. As a Bangladeshi, I could totally relate to the tale of this enriching novel. I was unable to put this book down until the end. A Golden Age is a book that goes beyond the history of Bangladesh, but into the diverse characters and events of the country.
fitz12383 More than 1 year ago
Meet Rehana Haque. A widowed mother of two in 1970s East Pakistan, Rehana would do anything for her children. Shortly after her husband's death, Rehana allowed her brother-in-law to take custody of her two children for a year, and she never lets herself forget it. She is a devoted mother, perhaps to a fault, and the unchanging love of a mother for her children is at the forefront of this novel about the war for Bangladesh's independence. This novel starts out strong, but without a baseline knowledge of the Bangladesh War for Independence, the reader could easily feel a little lost. Also, I had a very hard time making a connection with Rehana's two children, Sohail and Maya. I found that I didn't really care what happened to the characters in the novel. Luckily, the second half of the novel takes on a suspenseful edge as the war and the Haque family's involvement in the resistance increases. The last chapters are page turners indeed, and makes this book worth reading.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just had tea at my rich friends house in the Dhanmondi, Dhaka and we mildly talked about how bad things were in 1971 in Dhaka,Bangladesh. That is the taste I have in my mouth after reading this ¿Historical¿ novel. Prelude: I barely survived the heinous Bangladesh Genocide of 1971. My Uncle and Grandfather were mercilessly butchered via bayonets to their guts and their dismembered bodies thrown into the river never to be found again. As an American Bangladeshi, I pre-ordered this book, rather with high anticipation. In all my eagerness, I wanted this to do justice to the rape and murder and mayhem that I was lucky to live through. The anticipation was that it would be at least of the caliber of Monica Ali's 'talented Bangladeshi author' wonderful book 'Brick Lane¿, especially after the reviews I had read. This is a very lucrative idea but completely misses giving the essence of WAR! WAR is bloody hell, and not 'GOLDEN', even if the house that the book is set in is sonar 'golden.' This book keeps on whimpering out. After reading the book and listening to the audio, I Am I drinking whiskey in today's corrupt world of Dhanmondi, Bangladesh talking about how things were in 1971 or am I reading about thre was of the opinion 'especially with Madhur Jaffrey¿s narrating' that I had heard a book on current Paki flavored Bangladeshi cooking with war thrown in for good measure. If this book is to portray the world of genocide, it does not. And it does not because it cannot break out of this Dhanmondi scene aura even with this stretched scene in Augortola, India thrown in. The flavor of 71 was in the countryside, it was in lakes and rivers around Dhaka with bloated dead Bangladeshi bodies that looked like balloons someone had blown up with crows and vultures sitting on them and ripping out stinking rotting carrion. For selecting a subject that no one in the English language has written a historical novel, bravo! Five Starts for cover design! Five stars for publicity and press. But, ONE STAR FOR THE REAL FEEL OF BLOODY WAR. FIVE STARS for a historical novel that no one has yet written in English language. I realize the author was born after 71 and did not spend time in Bangladesh. I was born and brought up in the Dhanmondi area and lived through this bloody hell of nine months that I will never forget as the most horrific experience of my life. There are just too many heinous errors in wielding the words of English and the book is verbose to a greater extent. Less is best. I applaud the effort. I cannot in good faith applaud the result.