Title: The Good Muslim
Author: Tahmima Anam
Release Date: August 2, 2011
Genre: Literary Fiction, Multicultural Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
The year is 1984, and the Bangladeshi war for independence from Pakistan has been over for more than ten years. Bangladesh is an independent country which still hasn’t fully faced the difficult consequences of the war. Maya, a doctor, is returning home after years of being away. She finds that her brother Sohail has become a believer in a very traditional and strict version of Islam in order to atone for his crimes during the war. Sohail’s son, Zaid, is lost and confused, and it’s up to Maya to connect with the boy and try and do what is best for him.
The Good Muslim portrays a lost and confused nation trying to rise out of the ashes of a difficult and costly war, but unable to because they are stuck. The story Anam keeps returning to over the course of the novel is that of the women raped during the war by the enemy. While they have been proclaimed heroes by the government, they are shunned by their families and friends. They can no longer live normal lives in their communities and no one will help them. This clash between what is said, as opposed to what is practiced, is a major theme through the book.
Maya is an interesting character who is watching her beloved country fall apart around her. She has seen horrors as a doctor as she tries to help her people, and now she returns home and sees horrors of a different kind with her brother. He is completely lost to her, and she doesn’t know how to connect with him once again. Sohail is another casualty of war, even though he survived physically intact.
I do wish I had known that The Good Muslim was a sequel prior to reading it. Anam’s first book, The Golden Age, is apparently the first in a trilogy about Maya and Sohail, and it centers around their freedom fighting during the war. I would have loved to see the establishment of their characters so I could more fully comprehend them at this point. At times, I felt like I wasn’t fully understanding the message Anam was trying to send, and now I know why. I’d definitely recommend reading these books in order, as there were times I felt lost during my reading.
The Good Muslim is very bleak. Though there are the occasional moments of joy, the overall picture is a sad one. There is hope, underneath the surface, but it only breaks through momentarily before retreating again. Still, it is definitely worth reading. Anam presents a very interesting account of Bangladesh’s turbulent history, and since it’s a country most Westerners don’t know a lot about, it will teach you a lot. Additionally, through Sohail, Anam provides a glimpse into religious radicalism. I am interested in reading the next book in the trilogy when it releases, and in the meantime, I plan on going back and reading The Golden Age in order to fully understand the characters in this series.