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Showing posts from March, 2020

Panic Buying and Lockdowns: Life during the Bangladesh Independence War, 1971

With the announcement of the UK lockdown  in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us are adjusting to a new normal. People keep saying this has caused a disruption unprecedented in peacetime, and are invoking the spirit of previous generations who have lived through world wars.
March 26th marks the 49th anniversary of (what was then) East Pakistan declaring independence from West Pakistan, and the beginning of the violent nine month-long conflict that gave birth to Bangladesh. I thought I’d share some excerpts from a journal written by Jahanara Imam, who was a writer and educator living in Dhaka at the time. Her husband and sons were active participants in the struggle for independence, and were eventually killed.  Some of these might resonate with our own experiences at the moment, while others are a reminder of what other generations have been through in times of conflict and political uncertainty.
NB: These are all my own translations from the original Bangla.
Panic Buying:
“ ‘Li…

Home Is Where The Heart Is: Hashim and Family

It’s a difficult time right now for debut authors to be releasing books. So as a book blogger I’m trying to do my bit by sharing my thoughts on this wonderful debut novel: Hashim and Family, by Shahnaz Ahsan.
Before we start I have to tell you that I know the author personally, and OBVIOUSLY I’m bursting with pride for her, so if you feel you need to take this review with a grain or two of salt, please do so. However, rest assured that I never recommend a book that I don’t genuinely think is worth reading.


The story:
It’s Manchester in 1960 and Hashim has just arrived in Britain from East Pakistan – now known as Bangladesh. He moves into a shared house with his jovial cousin Rofikul and sets about trying to build himself a life. We see the two men going to work, socialising with their friends and navigating life in a new immigrant community. It’s not easy to adjust to a foreign country – the weather, the food, the unfamiliar ways. And people aren’t always friendly. But with Hashim’s new…

“The Vanished Bride”: Light and Shadow and the Brontës

With everything feeling so serious at the moment maybe you need a light read to take your mind off things.
The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis (Rowan Coleman) is a delightful read for Brontë and mystery fans. It imagines the Brontë sisters as amateur sleuths who set about solving the mystery of the disappearance – and possible murder – of a young woman in a neighbouring town. Their investigations lead them to realisations about the darkness and light in human nature, and it also allows us to imagine that we know them more intimately.

When I read the synopsis of this I was imagining something along the lines of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. In other words something that aimed to be tongue-in-cheek, slightly camp and generally good fun, but ultimately fell a bit flat.
However this delivered so much more. On the surface it is a fun, light-hearted, humorous whodunit and the author is not above tipping a sly wink or two to the clichés of mystery writing. T…

All The Water In The World - Karen Raney

Karen Raney’s debut is a moving and perceptive novel about how the experience of mortality and grief can shape how we live our lives.
The novel is narrated through the alternating voices of mother and daughter Eve and Maddy, and flits back and forth in chronology. 16 –year old Maddy has terminal cancer, and Raney explores how this influences Maddy’s thoughts and feelings on several levels. In particular, the sheer loneliness of it, the fear of the unknown, and the need to leave behind a positive legacy. Eve’s narrative is interwoven with Maddy’s, and takes place after Maddy’s death. Eve reminisces about Maddy and her own relationships with her parents, her partner Robin, and Maddy’s estranged father Antonio. When she stumbles across a secret correspondence between Maddy and Antonio, she starts to wonder why the two of them parted ways, and discovers that maybe the version of events she told herself and her family wasn’t strictly accurate.

What I liked:There is plenty to praise about th…

Sultana’s Dream: A Bengali Feminist Sci-Fi Utopia

Sultana’s Dream is a science fiction short story by the Bengali writer and activist Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, which was first published in the Indian Ladies’ Magazine, Madras, in 1905. 

It imagines the journey of a woman – Sultana - to a fantastical place called Ladyland, “free from sin and harm, where Virtue reigns supreme”. Here, the powers and spheres of men and women are reversed so that women are active in public life, and men are restricted to domestic duties. 

The result is a utopia where there is no crime, violence or corruption. Their main diet is fruit; they use technology to carry out manual labour and grow crops, and flying cars to travel. Work is carried out more efficiently as women do not waste time smoking and talking, and they come up with innovative, non-violent ways of defending themselves against enemies.

At a time when India was under British colonial rule and women’s emancipation had not yet become a reality even in Britain, Hossain satirised the patriarchal attitude…

12 Books by BAME Authors for Kids and Teens

Age 7-12:
1. Kamla and Kate - Jamila Gavin, Mammoth Storybooks, (1986)
An oldie but a goodie: I remember picking this up in my primary school library and being charmed by the adventures of these two best friends from different cultures. Kamla’s family is from India, and Kate is English. But really, they are just two little girls exploring their world and learning about it. Jamila Gavin sensitively portrays the feelings of alienation in a strange country, when you don’t know anyone or speak the language very well. And the friendship between the two girls is a beautiful thing. Suitable for newly independent readers. 
2. Mammy, Sugar Falling Down - Trish Cooke, Beaver Books (1989)
When 6 year old Elizabeth arrives in England from the West Indies she finds the place so strange and unfamiliar that she is delighted to recognise Mr Hot Pepper, Miss Lemon and the Onion Family hanging out in the cupboard. With their (sometimes misguided) help, she comes to adjust to her new life in England. It’…