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?
*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, but…eh… :) 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…