The Ministry of Utmost Happiness opens with a transgender woman living in a cemetery — and renting out “rooms” there, which is to say that the cast of characters is unusually diverse and offbeat. It is, however, centered on the Kashmir conflict and the shadowy role of a few militants and their families — and guerrilla war can make for pretty tedious storytelling. Fortunately the characters are, indeed, idiosyncratic and complicated and the strands of the story are artfully woven so I enjoyed the book, mostly, but don’t do looking for a fast-paced plot.
Tag Archives: civil war
Girl at War is the story of a young girl in Zagreb, then part of Yugoslavia, whose life is shattered by the civil war and who eventually moves to the US before returning “home” years later in the hope of finding old friends. (Yes, I see that this is the second three-part novel of the home-away-home variety in a row. But the subject matter is very different from Re: Jane, and much of the war stories are told in flashbacks, pleasantly blurring the three-part structure.)
The war stories are brilliantly told. They are hard to read, since the girl’s family and world is completely shattered, but the matter-of-fact voice of the descriptions captures the blinkered view of a young child. After the move to the US, the heroine starts talking in a similar psycho-babble as Jane, and acting in a similar stilted manner, which seems unlikely, and annoying. Still, the story is haunting.
Don’t be fooled by the romantic-looking blossom on the cover. There is indeed an orchard in The Orchard of Lost Souls but the emphasis is on the people around the orchard, more specifically on three women thrown together in a random event and who eventually come together in a rather unlikely way, but with civil war swirling around them the unlikely ending seems entirely natural.
There is much violence and little hope in the recounting of the Somalian revolution but the characters are complex, shown with all their weaknesses and even evil, and I found that the remote, detached, almost journalistic way the war is described made me focus even more on the people and their complicated decisions. Very well done.
On Sal Mal Lane tells the story of the children (and adults, but in the background) of a small street in Columbo, the capital of Sri Lanka, in the years before the Sri Lankan civil war. The families are carefully staged to represent the various ethnicities of Sri Lanka, and all the other details carefully arranged for maximum exposure to the riots to come. The children’s dialogs, feelings, and interactions are artfully captured and feel fresh and realistic. Alas, the political complications are told in a plodding and heavily didactic manner that clash with the personal stories. A waste of a tender story.
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.