The Good Muslim

The Good Muslim

4.6 9
by Tahmima Anam

View All Available Formats & Editions

From prizewinning Bangladeshi novelist Tahmima Anam comes her deeply moving second novel about the rise of Islamic radicalism in Bangladesh, seen through the intimate lens of a family.

Pankaj Mishra praised A Golden Age, Tahmima Anam's debut novel, as a "startlingly accomplished and gripping novel that describes not only the tumult of a great historical


From prizewinning Bangladeshi novelist Tahmima Anam comes her deeply moving second novel about the rise of Islamic radicalism in Bangladesh, seen through the intimate lens of a family.

Pankaj Mishra praised A Golden Age, Tahmima Anam's debut novel, as a "startlingly accomplished and gripping novel that 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." In her new novel, The Good Muslim, Anam again deftly weaves the personal and the political, evoking with great skill and urgency the lasting ravages of war and the competing loyalties of love and belief.

In the dying days of a brutal civil war, Sohail Haque stumbles upon an abandoned building. Inside he finds a young woman whose story will haunt him for a lifetime to come. . . . Almost a decade later, Sohail's sister, Maya, returns home after a long absence to find her beloved brother transformed. While Maya has stuck to her revolutionary ideals, Sohail has shunned his old life to become a charismatic religious leader. And when Sohail decides to send his son to a madrasa, the conflict between brother and sister comes to a devastating climax. Set in Bangladesh at a time when religious fundamentalism is on the rise, The Good Muslim is an epic story about faith, family, and the long shadow of war.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Repercussions from the Bangladeshi war of independence ricochet through the Haque family in this gripping and beautifully written sophomore novel from Anam (A Golden Age). On his way back to Dhaka after the war in 1971, Sohail Haque stops at a barracks recently occupied by the retreating army, where he opens a door onto a horrible scene. When he arrives home transformed, his mother, Rehana, is alarmed by the change in her once carefree son and begins reading to him from the Koran. Maya, his sister, struggles to understand her brother's trauma, even as her work performing abortions for the Bangladeshi women who were raped by soldiers shows her another aspect of the war's aftermath. Sohail becomes an increasingly devout Muslim, while Maya starts a clinic in a distant village where, after delivering an imperfect baby, she is driven away. She returns to find that her brother's son, Zaid, is unkempt and poorly educated, old friends have grown affluent and complacent, and her mother has ovarian cancer. Maya begins writing increasingly inflammatory political articles and attempting to educate her nephew while her mother's health worsens and her brother withdraws further into his religion. From historical, political, and social tragedy, Anam has fashioned a mesmerizing story capturing a culture and a time, while showing that despite the worst, people go on to live their lives. (Aug.)
Library Journal
In Anam's A Golden Age, Maya and her brother, Sohail, survived the Bangladesh war for independence. Now, Maya trains to become a doctor as Sohail struggles to put wartime memories to rest by turning increasingly to religion—which drives him and Maya apart. A well-reviewed debut, A Golden Age was a best seller on several regional lists and winner of a Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book, so the quiet launch of this second in a trilogy—the first-copy printing is only 25,000—is a little disappointing. Look for this where readers liked the first book and where Asian settings and/or women's fiction are popular.
Arifa Akbar
“Anam seems to be a novelist not so much luxuriating in the act of writing as in total control of it, using the right words to create her stunning story.”
“Anam tells a poignant, little-known story of a country often lost in the maze of global politics.”
The New Yorker
“Anam’s fluent prose and sharp insights are at their best when the narrative strays . . . into the surreal ways in which faith and love work-and sometimes fail.”
Los Angeles Times
The Good Muslim brims with gripping narrative, absorbing history and Shakespearean moral conundrums. . . . A keen examination of survival and forgiveness.”
Denver Post
“Anam has an eye for culture, and for cultural dissonance. The writer’s gift is to make the unfamiliar understood. The Good Muslim succeeds in doing exactly that, and doing it well.”
Wendy Smith
In A Golden Age, Tahmima Anam chronicled Bangladesh's 1971 war for independence through the story of Rehana Haque, a widow drawn into the rebellion by her devotion to her teenage children. Anam's new novel shifts the focus to those children, Maya and Sohail, once again using personal struggles to illustrate broader issues. The Good Muslim is an angrier, more bitter book…but it's also more mature, evoking ambivalence and regret with a complexity that was not as evident in Anam's accomplished first novel…Sad though their story often is, it gives quiet pleasure to see a gifted young writer grappling thoughtfully with the wounds of history in this compassionate novel.
—The Washington Post

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Good Muslim

A Novel
By Tahmima Anam


Copyright © 2011 Tahmima Anam
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061478765

Chapter One


It would not have been possible to go home if Silvi hadn't
died. Maya's thoughts rested for a moment on this fact as
she settled herself on the wooden bench in the third-class
carriage, balancing on her lap the sum of all her worldly possessions:
a small rucksack containing two saris, a kameez, a pair
of trainers, a doctor's case with a stetho and, for her mother,
a young mango tree. The tree had been difficult to wrap; it
was heavier than it looked and bulged awkwardly where the
roots were packed in soil. 'Tree won't live,' the farmer who
sold it to her said. 'Rajshahi tree, it belongs in Rajshahi.'
An old lady with a tiffin carrier slid into the space beside
her. She stared for a moment at Maya, then clamped the tiffin
carrier between her knees, pulled out a string of prayer beads
and began to mutter the Kalma under her breath.
La Ilaha Illallah, Muhammad ur Rasul Allah.

Of course it would survive. There was an empty patch at
the western edge of the garden, and if anyone could coax
mangoes out of that tree it would be Ammoo. But seven long
years had passed – she couldn't even be sure the patch was
still empty.
A group of young men entered the compartment.
Immediately they began to laugh and smoke, passing around
a box of matches and a packet of Star cigarettes. Maya resisted
the urge to scold them and instead pressed her face to the
horizontal bars on the open window, gazing at the litter strewn
tracks, the station platform where boys were selling peanuts
and cold drinks, and beyond to the scattered patches of green
where the groves of mango stood. She would miss it. The two
room house she had rented now stood empty, its rough concrete
floor swept and washed. And the verandah where she had seen
her patients, that too had been cleared, the examination table,
the small stand on which she kept her equipment, the wooden
chair on which she draped her white jacket at the end of the
day, ballpoint clicked shut in its pocket.
It had started with a few handfuls of mud. She told herself
the wind must have tossed a coconut or a piece of wood against
the walls of her house. For three days she ignored the sound.
On the fourth night, the laugh. Unmistakable, escaping
between the fingers of someone holding a palm over his mouth.
A young man's laugh, nervous and girlish.
She ran outside and peered into the darkness, but she couldn't
see anything. There is nothing darker than a moonless night in
It had ended, months later, with the glint of a knife. She remembered
it now: a gentle motion like the lick of a cat, the bright
line of it; and the flash of white that caught her eye, the hem of
a long robe floating just shy of a man's ankles as he slipped out
of the room and disappeared. Her hand went to her throat, to
the scar that still stood there, black and angry, but he hadn't cut
her, only laid his knife on her: it was a way of saying that they
had unfinished business, and that he could reappear at any
moment to end the story.
Yes, she would miss it. Nazia and the house and the mangoes
and the path around the pond. But the cat's lick of that knife, and
the scar on her neck, meant she might never return.
Just before the train pushed off, a couple with two small children
occupied the bench opposite. The mother held one of the children
on her lap, while the other, older, squeezed into the space
between her parents. The mother smiled shyly; Maya guessed it
was her first time on a train – nose pin gleaming, a pair of thin
gold bangles on her wrists, her fortune.
Really, it was no tragedy her brother's wife had died. The
prospect of facing Silvi – sanctimonious, her face packed tightly
into the burkha she hadn't been seen without since the war –
was largely what had kept Maya from her home. There was,
of course, also her brother, Sohail. And Ammoo, who had
abandoned her to her rage – her rage and the deep, driving
smell of burning books, a scent that had never left her during
the seven years she had gone missing. The train made its way
through Rajshahi, and then into Natore, the landscape
remaining flat and dry, the smells of the paddy mingling with
the mustard plants that shone yellow, the burning cakes of
The old woman opened her tiffin carrier, releasing the
aroma of dal and fried cauliflower. The family opposite
followed suit, unwrapping their bread and bhaji. Maya felt
a tap of hunger; she had neglected to pack anything for the
journey. The mother carefully tore her bread into tiny pieces
and placed them in the baby's mouth. She passed the rest of
the food to her husband, avoiding his eye as he took the
newspaper-wrapped package from her.
The older girl was refusing to eat, tugging at her mother's elbow
and shaking her head. Maya rooted around in her bag and emerged
with two tamarind sweets. She offered one to the girl, who stood
up, climbed into Maya's lap and took the sweet from her
outstretched hand. The mother protested, but Maya waved her away.
'It's all right,' she said. The girl pulled her knees up against her
chest and fell asleep. Maya must have slept too, because when she
opened her eyes the girl was heavy in her arms and the train was
just outside Bahadurabad Ghat. She felt a nudge on her shoulder.
The old woman was pointing to her tiffin carrier, which held half
a slice of bread and a smear of rice pudding.
'Eat,' she said, pinching Maya's cheek; 'you're too skinny.
Who's going to marry you?'
At Bahadurabad, Maya boarded the ferry. It was afternoon now,
and the sun danced on the wide expanse of river. She waved
her ticket at the ferryman and pushed her way to the deck,
where she was the only woman who chose to sit in the full glare
of the sun. The Padma lapped at the ferry, gentle, hiding the
force of its current. She munched on a packet of biscuits, trying
to remember if this was the same boat that had brought her to
Rajshahi. That one had a strange name. 'Hey,' she called out
to a young boy in a uniform. 'What's the name of this boat?'
It must have been a different boat. That journey, running
away from home, seemed a lifetime ago. She had turned to her
old friend Sultana. They had volunteered together at the refugee
camps during the war, Sultana shocking everyone by driving the
supply truck herself. Maya always remembered what Sultana
had told her that long summer before independence: that she
dreamed of going home after the war, not to the city, but
back to her father's village. 'I want to feel the earth pulling at
my feet,' she had said. After the book burning, when Maya
had decided there was nothing to do but leave, she had
telephoned, asking if she might come to stay. Sultana told Maya
she had recently married a boy she had known since childhood,
a doctor. Together they worked at a clinic in Tangail; she could
come; they could use her help.
She had stayed for three months, but Tangail was too close
to Dhaka. Every day Maya stared at the buses shuttling towards
the city, daring herself to climb aboard one and go home. And
Sultana and her husband were newly married. Maya caught
them kissing in the kitchen, their mouths open, his hands in
her hair.
She left, wandered around the country on trains, ferries and
rickshaws, finally arriving at the medical college hospital in
Rajshahi town. She volunteered again, and then applied to finish
her internship. After two years at the hospital, she was given
permission to start a clinic of her own. It was Nazia who had
given her the idea, Nazia who had come all the way to town
on the back of a rickshaw-van, her baby stuck in the breech
position. Impossible, Maya argued, for the women to travel all
the way to the hospital to give birth. Too many babies were
Somewhere along the way she had decided to become a lady
doctor instead of a surgeon. She had seen how the women's
faces changed when she entered the chamber, relaxing their
grip on the examining table. At the time she told herself it was
a practical matter. Anyone could become a surgeon, but a
doctor for women, a doctor who could deliver their babies and
stitch their wounds afterwards and teach them about birth
control—that is what they needed. She didn't think of the debt
she was repaying, that each of the babies she brought into the
world might someday be counted against the babies that had
died, by her hand, after the war.
They had never had a clinic in the village. Nazia spread the
word, describing how Maya had saved her and her baby from
certain death, how she had ordered the nurses about at the
hospital, how expertly she had inserted the needle into her arm.
That year, before the monsoon, Maya taught everyone in the
village how to make oral rehydration fluid: a handful of
molasses, a pinch of salt, a jug of boiled water. And they passed
that season without a single dead child. By the following year,
when she succeeded in petitioning the district to build them a
tube well, she believed she had won their hearts.
Nazia and Masud had another child. They named her Maya.
It was dark by the time the ferry reached the dock at
Jaggannathganj. Maya checked her watch, wondering if it was
too late to catch the last train. The tree was heavy in her arms,
the branches pricking her shoulder. She decided to try; it would
be difficult to find a hotel here, and they would ask her questions:
why she was traveling alone, why she didn't have a man
with her, a husband, a father.
At the station she saw the old woman from the train, her
tiffin carrier open. Maya went over and waved, strangely elated
at the sight of her. The woman beckoned her closer.
'Eat, eat,' she said.
'Grandmother,' Maya said, 'how is it your tiffin carrier is
always full?'
The woman smiled, revealing a set of tiny, betel-stained teeth.
Maya dipped a piece of bread into the curry she offered,
suddenly famished.
Hours later, in the molten dark of night, the overnight train
pulled into the station, and Maya helped the old woman on
board. Five hours to Dhaka, she whispered to herself, reciting
the names of the stations: Sirajganj, Mymensingh, Gafargaon.
Only five more hours.
Maya thought she might be overcome at the sight of Dhaka.
She imagined the waves of nostalgia that would coast over her,
forcing her to remind herself of the necessity of the last seven
years away. She imagined emerging into the cool February afternoon,
clouds moving fast overhead, and remembering everything
about her old life – all the days she had spent at the
university, the rickshaw rides to Ramna Park, Modhumita
Cinema and the Racecourse, regretting the spare years in
the country. But, as she stepped out of Kamalapur Station,
she saw that everything was loud and crude, as though someone
had reached over and raised the volume. It smelled of people
and garbage and soot. She saw how tall everything had grown
– some buildings reached five or six storeys – and how her
rickshaw-puller struggled to weave through the thicket of cars
on Mirpur Road, horns blaring impatiently; and she saw signs
of the Dictator everywhere, graffiti on the walls declaring him
the 'General of Our Hearts' and the 'Saviour of Bangladesh',
posters of him ten, twenty feet tall, with his high forehead,
his thin, satisfied moustache.
An hour later Maya was standing in front of the house of her
childhood, Number 25, clutching her rucksack and wondering
what she would find within.
Her eyes adjusted to the new contours of the building. The
decline was far worse than she had imagined. Here, grey streaks
across its back, where the drainpipe had leaked; there, the slow
sinking of its foundations, as if the house were being returned
to the earth; and, above, the collection of shacks that made up
the first floor, built by her brother out of a mixture of brick
and tin and jute, making it appear as though an entire village
had fallen from the sky and landed on the rooftop.
She had loved this house once. It was the only place where she
could conjure up the memory of her father – his elbows on
the dining table, his footsteps on the verandah. Sliding off his
chappals and raising his feet on to the bed. The smell of his tweed
suit on a humid day. And lodged into the bone of this house was
every thought and hope and bewildered fantasy she had ever
harboured about her life, about the war she had fought and won,
about the woman and man she had imagined she and her brother
would become; but after it was all over, the killing and the truce
and the redrawing of the border, he had gone one way, and
she another. And she had foreseen none of it.
There is no time to linger, she told herself. Pull up your socks
and go inside.
Everything was quiet and shining. The wooden arms on
the sofa gleamed. The tiny brass chandelier was polished, the
lace runner on the table starched and fixed perfectly in its place.
Cushions with pointy edges. It came back to her, the way her
mother always kept the house, as though a guest might arrive
at any moment and run her finger along the windowsill, checking
for dust.
The house was modest: three rooms set out in a row,
connected by a verandah that faced the garden. At the far end,
a kitchen with its own small porch. This was where she headed
now, sure she would find her mother bent over the stove or
washing the breakfast plates.
Instead, she found the kitchen packed with women. They
wore long black burkhas and squatted over the grinding stone,
the sink, the stove. Maya hovered at the entrance, wondering
for a moment if she had strayed into the wrong house. She
stood the tree up against a wall and set down her bag.
One of the women rose to greet her. Maya couldn't make
out her features beneath the loose black cloth. 'As-Salaam
Alaikum,' she said.
'Walaikum As-Salaam.'


Excerpted from The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam Copyright © 2011 by Tahmima Anam. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are saying about this

Arifa Akbar
“Anam seems to be a novelist not so much luxuriating in the act of writing as in total control of it, using the right words to create her stunning story.”

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.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Good Muslim 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
TulaneGirl More than 1 year ago
Loved. Loved. Loved this book. ***SPOILERS*** This book jumps back and forth between 1972 and 1981. This is the story of 2 siblings, Sohail and Maya, and their very different reactions to post-war life in Bangladesh. Maya and Sohail both suffer the indignities of war in very different ways. During the war, Maya, a doctor, helps women recover from the atrocities of war. Sohail goes to the frontline and does terrible things. When he returns, he is a changed man and one that Maya struggles to understand. He is lost, haunted by the ghosts of his friends who tortured and/or killed. He also carries a dark secret. He finds solace in helping a lost soul, Piya. Piya is a woman broken by war and Sohail wants nothing more than to help her heal. She ends up leaving him because he is too good for her and it leaves him devastated. He starts to find comfort in his religion and turns more and more to Allah. This angers Maya who has never been very religious to begin with. She sees this as a rejection of everything she is - a modern woman. She feels anger at his faith and leaves when he marries the local pious woman. Maya travels to the other side of the country and practices medicine for 7 years before finally returning home after a disastrous turn with a patient and a deeply religious town. She comes home to find her brother almost unrecognizable. He is a widowed father but is neglectful of his son. He spends his time preaching on the roof to his faithful followers. Maya spends her time pleading with him to be more attentive to his son's needs.She begs for him to be more attentive to his mother. The gulf between them seems insurmountable now but Maya won't stop trying to find the brother she lost. The beauty of this novel is that the characters are so complex that Sohail isn't a parody of a holy man, nor is Maya a parody of a modern woman. They both have faults, but they also both have beautiful traits. In a way, reading this book, I felt like Sohail and Maya's mother. Torn between the two and seeing the beauty in both. It was a sad but wonderful read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He is preparing a place for those who exept him! You don'nt have to belive in what your parents belive in. I dare you to either read one verse from a bible or pray to Jesus. See what happens! You litteraly can not imagine what he has in store for you in Heaven!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
1. Do not eat pork. 2. Be awesome P.S. Manuel Neuer ROCKS P.S.S. The book sounds good
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The teachings and the edicutes of a good muslim.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It sounds like a good book i am muslim too