Monday, August 17, 2009

A Golden Age - Tahmima Anam

Title: A Golden Age
Author: Tahmima Anam
Published: 2007 Pages: 276
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 2.5/5

Let me begin by saying that much of how I felt about this book is probably directly related to my mood and circumstances while reading this one. A Golden Age was our August book club pick and I was really excited when I learned we were going to read it. But then our trip happened and I only read 20 pages. Last week I struggled through the last 250 pages wishing I was reading something else. Something lighter. Something that didn't make me think (I've since started Eclipse). So, just keep that in mind while reading my review.

A Golden Age is set during 1971 in East Pakistan during the Bangladesh War of Independence. At the center of the story is Rehana Haque who is celebrating the ten year anniversary of the return of her children after her husband left her a young widow and they were sent to live with family in West Pakistan. While life seems to be incredibly sweet at the moment, a rebellion is brewing among the Bengali people that will change the Haque family's life forever. Rehana's love for her children Maya and Sohail are her guiding force as her strength and will is tested again and again.

Sounds good, right? Let's start with the good. The writing in A Golden Age is beautiful and moving and transports the reader directly to the scene:

"Outside, it was raining. Thick sheets of water fell heavily from the sky, hardened by the bellowing, circular wind. The sucking sound of her feet accompanied Rehana as she made her way back across the field and on to the main road. An uneven line of tea stalls greeted her at the roadside, surrounded by a cluster of rickshaws. Rehana tried her best to cover her head with her achol, but it was no use; the wind attacked from all sides, knocking the achol out of her hand and sending her flailing to gather her sari together" (196).

I found many of the images in the book very vivid and distinct and often times emotional and heartwrenching. If there are plot-driven books and character-driven books, this one falls into a different category--writing-driven books. But books focused on writing are tricky little things because words without characters or plot are just words, and for me that's how this book felt: a bunch of lovely words strung together.

What went wrong? First, I didn't feel there was sufficient background and history provided for a reader who doesn't know very much about Pakistan. I knew that when India was created, hundreds of princely states were joined together into a very disjointed nation (thanks to Rushdie and his Midnight's Children for the crash course), but I only knew that Pakistan was a divided country not only in geography but also economic and other differences. Until reading this book I couldn't even tell you that Bangladesh was the former East Pakistan. And perhaps it was the disjointed way that I read this book--pages here and there--but I never completely got what was going on in the book in terms of the actual action.

Second, already feeling lost and confused about the events taking place, I never felt I really knew the characters. We spend so much time in Rehana's head, even though the book is told in third person, but I couldn't tell you very much about her other than she was stronger than she often thought and that she loved her children very much. Again, maybe just my personal timing, but even halfway through the book I didn't get what made the characters tick and basically I just didn't care. But the writing--it was very beautiful.

Sorry to give you such a negative view of this book. We have our meeting tomorrow, so I'm not sure what most of the others thought. I think generally pretty receptive and another who is kind of "eh" about it like I was. If you like reading about other countries and other cultures, keep this one on your list because everything I've heard has been fairly positive. Sometimes a book just doesn't click with you the way you had hoped. What is a book you can remember reading that you wanted to like but just didn't for some reason or another?

For a balance of opinion (let me know if I missed you):
~ Eva ~ Book Chronicle ~ Katherine ~ Diane ~
~ Literary License ~ Teddy Rose ~ Lotus Reads ~

*On another note, I'm reading Eclipse and for Twlight and New Moon I interviewed myself for my post. Do you want to ask me questions this time? If not I can fake another interview, :) If you've got a question you're dying to ask, email me at trishsreadingnook at gmail dot com by Wednesday or Thursday or so. Anything goes...! Well, maybe not anything you sneaky little devils...


rhapsodyinbooks said...

I think that is one reason why I have avoided historical fiction; because sometimes the "history" is skipped in favor of the "fiction."

There are a lot of books I want to like - especially if they are "classics" - in fact, I think I tried to read Remembrance of Things Past a zillion times, but never made it past page 10!

Literary Feline said...

I am sorry you didn't care for this one, Trish. It could very well have been a matter if timing, but perhaps not. Sometimes it is hard to say for sure, isn't it?

This does sound good. I may give it a try just to see if I fare better with it.

Amanda said...

You know, just the other day I was wondering about you and Eclipse. How weird is that? I remembered how we both read the other two pretty closely around the same time, but neither of us had gone on, and I wondered if you were still interested in going on. I know I'm not - New Moon was just so BAD - but I'll definitely be interested in hearing your thoughts on the third book and how it compared to each of the first two.

Okay, so far my comment has nothing to do with you review...sorry about that. I tend to pass over historical fiction because I'm not a history person and I always feel like I'm missing something. I don't get much out of it, and I get bored. Every once in awhile it's okay, but usually I'm just not a big history or historical fiction kind of girl.

Lit and Life said...

So I've got this and I've really been looking forward to it. I can see I want to make sure that I read it when I'm in the right mood.

Veens said...

I know I don't want to really struggle with books. I am sure I don't want to read this one at all.
No, seriously!

Melody said...

I'm sorry this book didn't work for you, Trish. There are times I've the same feelings towards some books and I'm not sure if I should blame it on my mood or the book itself. Most of the times, I leave it aside for re-reading, but if I really do not like the story, I'll just have to give it up. Period.

I enjoy reading historical fiction but sometimes having too much of the history stuff would confuse me too. I'm so hard to please, haha!

Diane said...

Sorry this one did not work out for you Trish. I read it in january / 2009 and really liked it. I had the audio and the printed copy.

Here is my review:

bermudaonion said...

The premise of the book sounds good, but I know very little about the history of that part of the world, so I'm not sure it would work for me, either.

robotbooks said...

I remember really enjoying this book, but I will say in defense of historical fiction (or any representation) is that I don't feel it's necessarily the author's duty to inform the reader about a country's or culture's history. Sometimes it's good for the reader to do a little of their own digging. I remember when the film The Wind that Shakes the Barley came out it received a good amount of criticism for it's lack of historical context, but I'm not sure if I believe that an artist has to provide the history.

Serena said...

I haven't heard of this book, so I can't even postulate as to whether it was mood, circumstance, or book that weighed heavily on you.

As for Eclipse, have you noticed the books have gotten longer in the series and do you think that this book could have benefited from some editing to reduce the page number and more streamlined story?

Trish said...

*Rhapsody - This story is actually partially based on the author’s grandmother’s experiences, from what I can gather. I just wish that some of the politics and who was on what side was made a little clearer. But that could have just been my reading? I haven’t heard of Remembrance of Things Past, but I’ll be looking it up now!

*Lit Feline - I do hope that you’ll give it a try because I think I’m in a very slim minority. Any other time this is a type of book that I would have really enjoyed.

*Amanda - It’s funny because I wouldn’t really classify this as historical fiction, but I guess maybe it is. For some reason I think of historical fiction being all those Henry VIII novels that are so popular now—more romancy type stuff, this is more cultural. Anyway, the book had a lot of potential, just didn’t work for me. Eclipse is better than New Moon but still ridiculous. :)

*Lit and Life - Oh, definitely still read it. I think it was just really bad timing for me. Not the type of book to take on vacation!!

*Veens - This book isn’t a difficult one to read at all, it just didn’t capture my attention like I had hoped. It’s still worth giving it a try—everyone seems to really like it.

*Melody - If this hadn’t been a book club book I would have set it aside, and I don’t do that very often. I really want to think it was timing on this one, but I think you’re right that sometimes it’s hard to tell.

*Diane - I’m so glad you mentioned how much you liked this one because I don’t want people to see my review and then not try the book. How was listening to it? I think this one would be great on audio.

*Bermuda - A quick trip to Wikipedia always helps me, but the way that the material was presented was kind of confusing. I wasn’t always sure which side who was on, but like I’ve said, this could have just been my personal timing.

*Robotbooks - I’m so glad you liked the book—I’m sure it must have just been my rotten timing. In regards to what you mention about the culture/country’s history I am liking to agree with you on most parts. I do think that it is the reader’s choice to know as much or as little about the background as he/she chooses. And I’m usually the first one jumping up to read the background of what is happening in the book. In this particular case, I felt that some of the details were a little confusing. Again, maybe just my timing and the disjointedness of my reading, but to me the material wasn’t presented in a clear manner.

*Serena - I've been reading the Twilight books so spread apart that I haven't noticed them getting longer. I do think that Meyer could have used a heavier-handed editor, though. Lots of repitition that probably could have been cut! Oh well.

violetcrush said...

There is a big and bloody history to the formation of Bangladesh and it must have been really difficult to go through the story when you don't know much about the background.

But I would still give this book a try. I know the basics and would definitely be interested in reading something set in that period, I don't know many fiction books written in that time period.

Ramya said...

I understand what you mwan by "not enough background".. books like that frustrate me. But luckily with the Pakistan-Bangladesh affiar, I know quite a bit having lived in India all my life. I think I am going to give this book a shot. I loved the writing from the excerpts that you provided and I shall keep in mind the negatives that you pointed out.. Thanks for yet another awesome review!!

Ramya said...

Btw, talking about Bangladesh you should give Taslima Nasreen's Shame a shot.. She was criticized for her writing... but the book is really thought provoking! I'd be curious to see if she provides all the necessary background information for the riot in the book. Since I was already familiar with it, I didn't really pay much attention to that aspect of the book..

Nymeth said...

Sorry to hear this didn't work for you right now, Trish! But I think I'd still like to give it a try sometime. I do like reading about other countries, and you said the writing was beautiful, so..

Jodie said...

I have a couple of Eclipse questions!

Have you seen the film yet? If yes how did you like it?

You're on the third book, but do you know how the quartet ends? If you do how do you think that's impacting on your reading of the other books?

Which vampire (apart from Edward) is your favourite and which is your least favourite?

Anna said...

I agree that your frame of mind can affect your perceptions of a book. This one sounds interesting, but I don't know a lot about the politics of the area so I'm sure I'd be confused.

Diary of an Eccentric

Trish said...

*Violetcrush - The writing is this book is really lovely--I wouldn't write it off because it didn't work for me. Definitely pick it up!

*Ramya - Like I told Violet above, definitely read this. I think you'd like it better than I did, especially knowing some of the background. And I'll definitely add Shame to my list!

*Nymeth - I think it was just poor timing for me. I wasn't in the mood for this book, so I felt like I was forcing my way through. I think you'd like this one better than I did.

*Jodie - You rock!! Thank you so much! :)

*Anna - When we had our book club discussion I asked the other girls if they got a good sense of what was going on. They all said no as well, BUT, one of the girls brought up a great point about the main character and her naivete throughout the novel. She doesn't really understand what is happening in her life and with the world she lives in, and some of this might have been an extension of that. Who knows, but it was an interesting discussion point.

Eva said...

Awww: I loved this one! :) But I have Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi friends and was an international relations major, so I had enough background. I hate it when I have high expectations for a book and then they're disappointed.

Trish said...

*Eva - I've heard nothing but good things about this one, so I like to think it was just poor timing on my part. I think having the background would have helped me enjoy this one a little more. Oh well!

S. Krishna said...

Hmm...I do know a bit about Bangladesh's history, so maybe I might enjoy this book more? I had the same complaints about The Disobedient Girl that you did about this book.