Malek and Priya are brother and sister, very different from each other except for their determination to succeed. They are part of a Bengali joint family founded by their father, the rational but trusting Shams. Malek abandons school and takes to business. He falls in love with a beautiful widow, much older than he is. Priya had to marry a college professor who opposes her pursuit of education and singing. Spanning four decades when their homeland changes from Bengal to East Pakistan, then through the Liberation War to Bangladesh, they struggle to build their lives.
The shift of people from village to provincial town to capital city as the country develops is a cause of the split up of the extended family into nuclear families. Shams sees education as the medium by which his family can prosper. His belief is undermined by Malek's bid for freedom from schooling, and by the warped and cruel character of his highly educated son-in-law. The mother and the eldest daughter-in-law in the family, traditional souls, are contrasted with daughter Priya and other daughter-in-laws who would like more education, respect and jobs outside the home. While overall, the setting is of a middle class Muslim South Asian family with none of the religious angst of extremism, we do have a glimpse of the sectarian violence post-partition and the notorious train massacres, in which a brother is nearly a victim but in fact the comedic treatment gives us a light hearted moment. Dictatorships and unequal power distribution in the two wings of Pakistan, are touched on, while the fear and disruption of the 1971 Liberation War are dealt with in more detail.
From comments by a professional reader through Indepenpress: …The story is written in an understated, straightforward, yet lyrical style, creating a strong sense of a Bengali Muslim community through its vivid descriptions of the local landscape of Rajshahi, of food and cooking, homes and transport. …..
Fabia Claridge, Sydney, Australia, novelist and political activist…. fantastic book! Loved it and wanted to keep reading to find out what happened to the characters. It took me right back to 'old' Bangladesh. I really got involved in the people's lives. It was a very clever and detailed picture of joint family life and the social change that occurred bringing about the nuclear families. ….. (The book) brought back a wonderful time and place that may already have passed.
From a review by Eshanul Haque, ex-lecturer of English in Dhaka University, ex-defence secretary of Bangladesh, now working as a translator in the USA.…flashes of excitement when the children go on bird hunting expeditions or have a game of carrom at a forbidden hour and the grim consequences that follow, or the pranks they play upon unsuspecting street vendors. ……Characters are deftly drawn. Surprisingly one of the least likeable characters, Barek, Priya's jealous and possessive husband comes out as a truly authentic figure. Malek, on the other hand, is pugnacious and bit of a bully but honest and hardworking..
Review by Gaye Hicyilmaz, YA novelist and reviewer. Dr Rahman's first novel reminds me of a water colour: for it has all the charm and delicacy of that medium. It lingers in the mind. ….It's a story that we all recognise. There are no violent colours or clashing contrasts demanding attention, although the author deals with immensely serious and difficult topics: domestic violence, civil war and religious intolerance. ..... And it's a novel that I cannot recommend highly enough because it's that unusual creation, a picture that delights and informs and says so much more through its skilful simplicity than many tub thumping pages ever achieve.