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Novelist Depicts a Nation's Birth in 'A Golden Age'

by Linda Kulman
Jan 29, 2008

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Book Tour is a Web feature and podcast. Each week, we present leading authors of fiction and nonfiction as they read from and discuss their work.

"Most people who write novels for the first time write about their own experience," says Tahmima Anam, whose debut work, A Golden Age, tells the story not of her own life, but of the country where she was born. Set against the backdrop of Bangladesh's war of independence from Pakistan in 1971, the novel is about a widowed mother who steps beyond the tightly drawn confines of domesticity to take on a new identity as a nationalist.

"If you talk to people about the war," says Anam, who got her Ph.D. in social anthropology at Harvard and now lives in London, "it's as though it just happened yesterday and not 37 years ago." It was hearing the survivors' stories, she explains, that moved her to write the book. They "really touched my heart, and I thought about them all the time. And the only way that I thought I could convey something of what it might have been like to have lived through '71 was to write a novel." If fiction is done effectively, she adds, "you can really be transported."

Anam has apparently achieved at least part of her goal. The London Telegraph says A Golden Age "blossoms into a real page-turner, with a bravura, heart-stopping ending."

The novel is the first installment of a planned trilogy about Bengal. Anam is now working on book number two, set during the 1947 partition of India.

This reading of A Golden Age took place earlier this month at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C.

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Recorded at Politics and Prose, Washington, DC.

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