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Merle

Merle

The Good Muslim - Tahmima Anam I thoroughly enjoyed A Golden Age, so I had high hopes for this book. Sadly, like many sequels, it just isn't as good as its predecessor.

The Good Muslim picks up in 1984, over a decade after the end of A Golden Age, which chronicled the experiences of a family during Bangladesh's war for independence. Now the country is ruled by the unnamed Dictator, religious extremism is on the rise, and the Haque family is divided by the son Sohail's adopting such an extreme version of Islam that even toothbrushes are forbidden.

Anam is a good storyteller, and I still found the characters interesting here. Again, I learned something about Bangladeshi history. And the sense of place is stronger in The Good Muslim than A Golden Age. The novel's biggest weakness is that the pacing doesn't match the story. At under 300 pages, this is a very quick read, and made more so by the short scenes, jumping back and forth between past and present and among point-of-view characters. The problem is that this is ultimately a story about family relationships, and it doesn't benefit from so much jumping around; in A Golden Age, Anam let scenes and relationships develop more slowly, and it worked better. Other reviewers have criticized the more dramatic scenes here for being melodramatic, and I can see where they're coming from; everything happens so fast that there's little buildup.

And then there's Anam's treatment of Maya, the main character here. In A Golden Age, there's a certain ambivalence toward Maya, which I put down to seeing her through Rehana's eyes, where Rehana is ambivalent about her daughter. Here, though, even from Maya's own point-of-view, there seemed to be a certain authorial discomfort with her determined, nonreligious, childfree, single-professional-woman ways, and she's rather heavily criticized for "causing" a couple of terrible events by meddling--where while that didn't help any, Sohail's conscious (and in my view, very poor) decisions are the direct causes of those events. Maybe Anam was just trying to be balanced or something, but even there, I could do without another book where a woman not previously interested in these things suddenly decides she needs a husband and babies to be happy after all--and the romance was weak and uninteresting, although fortunately it doesn't take up much time.

Despite the criticism, though, this isn't a bad book; Anam does write well. And she has some interesting things to say about why people turn to extremism. But if you're only going to read one, go with A Golden Age instead.