Told in flashbacks and mostly set in the years following Bangladesh’s civil war, Tahmima Anam’s second novel, The Good Muslim, shows a country still reeling from the horrible crimes they suffered and committed during the war. So many survivors are showing symptoms of post traumatic stress: the surviving soldiers have come home with physical and emotional scars, and many women from villages were also subjected to rape and other brutalities by the invading forces; they, too, now carry the burden of shame and, all too often, are also left to raise the children that resulted from these attacks.
Though The Good Muslim is very much about a nation that is suffering, it is centered on the Haque family. The book opens with a young doctor named Maya returning home seven years after running away. Rather than go into a lucrative medical field, Maya has been living in rural areas providing simple but vital health education to villagers and OB/GYN care to women who would otherwise have had no one to help them. She has seen first-hand how the war has affected countless women. It’s a noble endeavor, but it isn’t the real reason she left home seven years ago.
As the book progresses, we see start to learn more about Maya’s background. Her father died while she and her brother were young, leaving their mother to raise them on her own. Maya and her brother, Sohail, were very close growing up, but then the war happened a few years later and Sohail went off to fight. The man who returned was a shell of his former self, traumatized and aloof, and adamantly silent about his experiences. A rift grew between him and Maya, and when Sohail began to drift towards religion, the rift grew even bigger. Once Sohail married a fundamentalist woman and himself became more conservative in his beliefs, Maya fled.
Now that she has returned, Maya barely recognizes her brother, who has since become a religious leader. Sohail’s wife has recently died, and their child, Zaid, runs around filthy and unsupervised; Sohail refuses to send him to school, and instead is leaning towards sending him to a madrasa. All of the old hurt and confusion is again stirred up in Maya and is compounded by the stress of their mother’s sudden illness.
I devoured this book and loved the historical aspect of it. I thought that Anam portrayed the sense of national trauma tactfully, and the small bubble of the Haque family’s world was like a microcosm of what was happening on a much larger scale. There is a lot of pain and anger, and yet almost everyone in the book has also, at one time or another, made very bad choices that have had devastating repercussions and have victimized others. By the (soul crushing) end of the book, few people are completely innocent of any wrongdoing.
The Good Muslim is the second book in a planned trilogy about the Haque family. I actually did not know this, even though I own (but have not read) the first book, A Golden Age. I don’t think it really matters if you read them out of order, though, because A Golden Age seems more focused on Maya and Sohail’s mother, Rehana. But I definitely plan to go back and read that book soon (I loved Rehana!), and after The Good Muslim‘s ending, I will definitely be reading the next book whenever it comes out.
The Good Muslim was originally released in August 2011 by Harper Books, an imprint of HarperCollins. It released on paperback on August 14, 2012 by Harper Perennial. This book is on tour right now, so check out what other bloggers are saying about it.