How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is a novel and not a self-help book, as its self-consciously styled title may suggest, and it really is no more than a classic rags to riches to semi-rags story — but what a clever and cleverly told story it is. Beyond the inventive self-help format, there’s the feat of the second-person voice narrative, rarely achieved with any level of success (success here, failure here and here). And the story, which I imagine is set in Lahore, where the author lives, although it never says so, is full of fresh details about local mores (such as buying a resident’s bond to guarantee a period of rent-free living) and also universal experiences, as when the hero loves his son for being his “echo”. Highly recommended!
If you like this book and have not read Behind the Beautiful Forevers yet, read it too!
Scenes from Early Life presents itself as a novel, but it reads just like a memoir, and indeed it appears that it may be that of the author’s husband (an author with remarkable versatility, since the last book I read from him, and enjoyed very much, was The Missing Ink, a non-fiction account of handwriting).
This story is told in vignettes cleverly arranged in non-chronological order, that take place before, during, and after the coup that heralded the creation of Bangladesh (as in A Golden Age) and the vast family of the narrator, housed for the most part in the vast house of his maternal grandparents, where most of the action takes place. There are stories about pet chickens being cooked in stews, trips to the ancestral village that require crossing seven rivers over the course of a very long day, elopements and formal weddings, society women who hide assault rifles in music instruments cases, and many family grudges that persist beyond the memories of why they arose. Most enjoyable!
In The Newlyweds, a newly married Bangladeshi woman who met her American husband online waits for her green card, frets about her parents back home, and discovers her husband’s small but surprising family. And the story never really grabbed me because it sounds like a story written by an American about an outsider (which it is) rather than the other way round, so the surprises of life in America seem catalogued, overly studied, rather than genuine. And her return trip to Bangladesh confirms this feeling, as it reads like a travel narrative.
A Golden Age tells the story of a mother, Rehana, and her family as they live through the 1971 coup that created Bangladesh (separating what was then known as East Pakistan from West Pakistan, today’s Pakistan .) The background of civil war is numbingly familiar: tortured rebels, raped daughters, miserable conditions for refugees. Rehana’s life changes as she comes to warehouse guns in her house, shelter rebels, and fall in love with one.
At the same time she creates a sewing club, pickles mangoes (mangoes?) and worries about her daughter’s sartorial choices. Evidently in 1971 Dakha rebellion means wearing a white sari, not Goth black leather. Her motherly obsessions are not so far off from ours, although the consequences of a missed curfew are far more dire than what we think about.
A great way to learn about Bangladeshi history with the comforts of a rich family story with lots of strong supporting characters.