A Golden Age: A Novel

A Golden Age: A Novel

by Tahmima Anam


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061478758
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/06/2009
Series: P.S. Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 1,247,592
Product dimensions: 5.34(w) x 7.92(h) x 0.68(d)

About the Author

Tahmima Anam is an anthropologist and a novelist. Her debut novel, A Golden Age, won the 2008 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book. In 2013, she was named one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists. She is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times and was a judge for the 2016 International Man Booker Prize. Born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, she was educated at Mount Holyoke College and Harvard University, and now lives in Hackney, East London.

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.”

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Golden Age 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
FicusFan on LibraryThing 3 months ago
I read this book for a RL book group. In this group we read books based in different cultures. This book was set in East Pakistan in 1971 just as their war for independence from Pakistan breaks out. They become the nation of Bangladesh. I had heard of Bangladesh, but had no real in-depth information. Just that it seems to be poor, flat and floods a lot. I didn't realize that it was the former Indian state of Bengal (which I thought was still part of India). So it was a very interesting read. The author is from Dhaka and has worked her interpretation of events into the book.The story follows a woman, Rehana Haque, whose husband dies unexpectedly in 1959. He did everything for his wife and 2 children. Once he dies, she has no means of support and his childless brother and wife petition the court to take Rehana's children to live with them in Lahore. Rehana's blood relatives are formerly rich and important, but have nothing at the current time to help her. In fact her family and the brother-in-law and wife live in Pakistan and can't understand why she stays in East Pakistan. It is poorer and separated from Pakistan by a 1,000 miles of India. Rehana wants to stay in her house and neighborhood where her husband had lived, and her children were born.Rhana has her children taken and she spends 2 years struggling to find a way to support them so she can have them back. The exact means that allow her to build a guest house and take in a permanently lodging rich Indian family, are shrouded in mystery. Eventually she brings her children home to Dhaka. The story jumps 10 years and her children are grown and her life has been good, but the political situation has deteriorated. East Pakistan has been denied the ability to make its own decisions, and those forced on them from Pakistan rankle.Eventually the students at the college in Dhaka begin striking and police try to quell them. The situation escalates and troops from Pakistan arrive, and the students become insurgents. Violence reigns in the streets with battles between the students and the troops, and the troops conduct house raids and carry people off in the night; those take are never seen again, though there are rumors of horrible humiliation and torture.Rhana's children are of course involved in the student movement. The son joins the insurgents, and the daughter goes to Karachi (Pakistan) and writes in a protest paper in support of the insurgents. She uses her real name, and eventually it comes back to the family, who are based in Pakistan and don't support the fight for independence.Rehana's brother-in-law comes to Dhaka as the top civilian sent by the government to regain order, and rule over the locals. Rehana has to tip-toe around him to keep her son safe, and to help other families who have lost members to the jails. Rehana, while seeming to support the government, works to gather supplies, and food for the insurgents. She even lets her son hide guns in her garden. She does all this not out of patriotism, but because her son is involved and she wants to keep him safe, and from going away.Rehana's family of Indian lodgers must eventually flee because they are Hindus in a Muslim land. It has become an issue in the upheaval, but it didn't matter during the peace. Also India seems to be about to support freedom for East Pakistan and the government troops are rampaging against Indians. Eventually it all becomes too dangerous and Rhana goes to be with her daughter in Karachi and her son goes into to wilds with his friends to join their troops fighting against the government.In Karachi, Rehana comes face to face with the horror of the refugee camps: no shelter, no food or water, no sanitation, and little medical help. She finds the wife of the Indian family who is now alone and is so traumatized she can't speak or interact with any human.Rehana returns home as the revolution winds down. Her children and house are safe, but neighbors have had their lives
sonam_soni on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Set in Bangladesh at the time of the Pakistan civil war that created Bangladesh. A story about a single mother raising her two children.
stonelaura on LibraryThing 3 months ago
This book is set in the East Pakistan of 1971 as it is about to become Bangladesh. The story centers on the matriarch of the family, Rehana, as her two beloved children become embroiled in the resistance movement. The small details of Rehana¿s quotidian life bring a real sense of how universal this story really is. We all gossip with neighbors, plan family events, struggle to make ends meet. The wonderful way Anam combines the mundane with the burgeoning political struggle brings cultural depth to the story. We actually meet the family about in 1959 as the children are being taken from R, after her husband has died and she¿s left penniless. This family history gives us the sense of familial loyalty and love that is a dominate theme of the book, and also serves to let us know that, while this is a compelling story about the birth of a nation, it is foremost a story about finding, recognizing and keeping love in one¿s heart when the world around you is falling apart.
Kasthu on LibraryThing 3 months ago
A Golden Age is a complicated novel about a woman during the Bangladeshi War for Independence. Rehana Haque is a widow with two children on the cusp of adulthood in the spring of 1971, when a revolution in Dhaka changes their lives, and those of their friends, forever. While the world rages around them, Rehana attempts to come to terms with the choices her almost-grown son, Soheil, and daughter, Maya, have made. And, despite herself, Rehana finds herself getting involved into the revolutionary movement, despite her indifference to it.Family relationships play a strong role in this novel, for a poignant revelation about what a mother will do for her children. The novel is short, but complicated and dense. You can't help but get sucked into these characters' lives, so different from our own. The title of the book, A Golden Age, is a bit misleading (considering that the period was hardly golden), but it comes from the name of Rehana's house, Shona, which means gold in Bengali.While the novel is a little bit choppy in some places, Tahmima Anam is a powerful writer who only promises to grow stronger. A Golden Age is the first book in a trilogy.
kellyn on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Months after finishing this book I can still clearly recount scenes and characters from the story--surely signs of a good book. The choices made by Rehana are heartbreaking yet make sense in the context of her life. That her children seem oblivious to the strength and self-sacrifice of their mother adds credibility to the story while still infuriating me. Yet how true to the lives of most adolescents. The closing scenes still haunt me.
awriterspen on LibraryThing 5 months ago
A book about a far off land, a war, and a widow... I was certainly expecting a thrilling, suspenseful, maybe even adventurous novel through the sights and sounds of east Pakistan (now Bangladesh). In contrast, even though this is a very short novel, the author seemed almost afraid to delve into creating a page-turning brutal war novel. This felt like a slow read through the highlights of Rehana Haque's life. Further development of the sights and sounds of this first novel by Tahmima Anam would have taken the reader further into Rehana's world. In doing so, Tahmima Anam could have created a beautiful, vivid landscape set against the pain and stress of war. I really think she missed a great opportunity in this. Also, other than Rehana Haque's character, the other characters are only mildly developed, leaving the reader wanting to know more. I commend the author however for her storyline, I think this would make a very incredible screenplay. I felt the story itself is truly worthy of a voice, and this book was on a must read list. I was unfamiliar with this historical war, the Independence War of Bangladesh, and the author did a wonderful job of bringing this story to the novel reading public. If you enjoy historical novels, or are looking for a quick read, this book might interest you. The last 1/4 of the book is fantastic, where author Tahmima Anam really shows her talent for the pen. I would have liked to have seen an included glossary, as many terms are thrown around as if they are English, and nothing will disrupt a novel like going to your dictionary to look up a word. For reading flow, it would have been nice to include that, as well as a pronunciation guide to the names. Those things would have helped the reader to connect more closely to the story. I hope to see many more books by Tahmima Anam, she is a truly promising young author. I should note that this book would be excellent college reading. It's short enough and has passages subject to interpretation.
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.