Anam, Tahmima 1975–
Anam, Tahmima 1975–
Born 1975, in Dhaka, Bangladesh; daughter of Mahfuz (a journalist) and Shaheen Anam (a human rights activist). Education: Mount Holyoke College, graduated, 1997; attended Columbia University, 2000; Royal Holloway, University of London, M.A., 2005; Harvard University, Ph.D., 2005.
Home—London, England. Agent—The Wylie Agency, 17 Bedford Sq., London WC1B 3JA, England.
Writer. Guest on radio programs, including The Verb, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Radio3.
Research fellowship, 2001; Arts Council of England grant, 2005; nominations for Costa Book Award (formerly known as Whitbread Book Award) for best first novel, Costa Coffee, and Guardian First Book Award, London Guardian, both 2007, and recipient of Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Overall Best First Book, Commonwealth Foundation, 2008, all for A Golden Age.
Contributing editor, New Statesman; also contributor to other periodicals, including London Guardian and New York Times, and to Web sites, including Powells.com.
A Golden Age was adapted for radio by BBC-Radio 4 and as an audiobook by HarperAudio, 2008.
Bangladesh-born writer Tahmima Anam carved out a place of prominence for herself in the literature of South Asia with her very first novel, AGolden Age, which portrays her homeland's 1971 war of independence as it affects the life of a young widow. Before the novel was even published, London Observer writers Vanessa Thorpe and Mahtab Haider described Anam as a "major new talent," and upon publication the book garnered international attention. New Statesman reviewer Natasha Tripney called it "an ambitious and powerful debut"; Yvonne Zipp in the Christian Science Monitor described it as "a riveting tale"; and Khademul Islam of Bangladesh's Dhaka Daily Star named it "the defining Bangladeshi novel of 1971." Anam is frequently compared to award-winning novelists Monica Ali, whose Brick Lane deals with Bangladeshi immigrants in England, and Zadie Smith, whose White Teeth explores the lives of three diverse ethnic families in London.
Having written her doctoral dissertation on the oral history of Bangladesh's 1971 war of independence, Anam was drawn to choose that war as the setting for her novel. The action, however, focuses less on the war itself than on the life of a young widow, Rehana Haque. Haunted by having lost custody of her son and daughter to a relative in West Pakistan (modern Pakistan) for more than a year soon after her husband died, Rehana struggles to keep them close and safe as they draw her deeper and deeper into the liberation movement. In a London Telegraph interview, Anam discussed her decision to focus on Rehana. "I thought I had to write a big novel about the war," she said. "But instead I found that it worked if I put Rehana … at the centre of the story. I could relate better to her and her relationship with Bangladesh. I had to let go of telling a revolutionary's story. That is someone else's story to tell." Like Rehana, who is originally from West Pakistan, Anam is something of an outsider—though born in Bangladesh, she was raised abroad and knows Bangladesh largely through vacation visits. When she was growing up, her father worked for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and the family moved from Bangladesh to France, the United States, and Thailand; he later became editor and publisher of the Dhaka Daily Star, the most prominent English newspaper in Bangladesh.
Anam's emphasis on the familial angle attracted notice from reviewers, such as Kamila Shamsie of the London Guardian, who wrote, "One of the novel's great strengths is its decision to show war from the perspective of the women who cannot join the armed resistance and must instead find a way to live in the limbo world of a city in curfew." Anam actually drew some of the elements of those family lives from her own family—Rehana is loosely based on Anam's grandmother, and some of the events in the book are versions of things that happened to her. "From a very young age I was told stories about the war by parents, uncles and aunts, even my grandmother," Anam remarked in a Times of India article. "They had so many memories from the war, and I was always interested in hearing all about it from them." Her doctoral research also provided a wealth of material.
Critical response to Anam's work was largely positive, and the book earned the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Overall First Book as well as a nomination for the prestigious Guardian First Fiction Award. Several reviewers highlighted the author's descriptive prose, as did Angela Shah of the Dallas News's online arts magazine, Guidelive.com, when she observed that the novel "is filled with passages that almost poetically describe the horror of civil war." That same achievement raised concerns for others, however: Islam, for example, wrote that "if there is one overarching critique of the book … it may be that the very beauty of the writing can serve to at times distance the terrors of that year, to hold it at bay." Some critics felt that Anam's inexperience as a first-time novelist showed in the early parts of the book, but even with such reservations, London Telegraph reviewer David Robson nevertheless concluded that "the book blossoms into a real page-turner, with a bravura, heart-stopping ending." Many singled out Anam for being the first to address the history-making war in a novel and make English-speaking readers aware of the atrocities and heroism that were a part of it.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, November 15, 2007, Donna Seaman, review of A Golden Age, p. 30.
Boston Globe, January 29, 2008, David Mehegan, "She Took a Novel Approach to Connect with Her Homeland."
Christian Science Monitor, January 8, 2008, Yvonne Zipp, "‘A Golden Age’ Tells of a Mother's Love Tangled by War," p. 14.
Daily Star (Dhaka, Bangladesh), March 31, 2007, Khademul Islam, "The Definitive 1971 Novel."
Entertainment Weekly, January 11, 2008, Jennifer Reese, review of A Golden Age, p. 75.
Guardian (London, England), March 17, 2007, Kamila Shamsie, "Windows on a Mother's War"; April 22, 2007, Clemency Burton-Hill, "And Ne'er the Twain Shall Meet"; November 24, 2007, "Review: Guardian First Book Award: Introducing the Third of the Shortlisted Books, Tahmima Anam Answers Questions on the Writing of A Golden Age: The Shortlist," p. 22.
Independent (London, England), March 18, 2007, Christian House, review of A Golden Age.
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2007, review of A Golden Age.
Library Journal, October 15, 2007, Evelyn Beck, review of A Golden Age, p. 50.
New Statesman, March 26, 2007, Natasha Tripney, "Fear and Loving," p. 68.
New York Times Book Review, January 27, 2008, Michael Gorra, "Birth of a Nation," p. 7.
Observer (London, England), November 26, 2006, Vanessa Thorpe and Mahtab Haider, "New Fiction Star Taps Bangladeshi Roots."
Publishers Weekly, August 6, 2007, Hilary S. Kayle, "First Fiction: A Golden Age," p. 43; September 17, 2007, review of A Golden Age, p. 31; October 15, 2007, Sybil Steinberg, "PW Talks with Tahmima Anam: Mango Pickles and Revolution," p. 36.
Slate (Dhaka, Bangladesh), February, 2007, Mahfuz Sadique, "Daughter of a Golden Age."
Star Weekend Magazine (Dhaka, Bangladesh), January 26, 2007, Aasha Mehreen Amin, "A Personal Story on 1971."
Telegraph (Calcutta, India), April 22, 2007, Shrabani Basu, "‘I Looked at the Past through Rose-Tinted Glasses.’"
Times Literary Supplement, April 27, 2007, Chitralekha Basu, "Bangla Ma," p. 23.
Times of India, July 7, 2007, "The Restless Outsider."
USA Today, January 31, 2008, Carol Memmott, review of A Golden Age, p. 5D.
WWD, January 7, 2008, Vanessa Lawrence, "Separation Anxiety," p. 4.
Guidelive.com (arts guide of the Dallas News), http://www.guidelive.com/ (January 20, 2008), Angela Shah, "‘A Golden Age’: Tahmima Anam Sets Mother's Story against Turmoil in Bangladesh."
Morning Edition,http://www.npr.org/ (January 11, 2008), Lynn Neary, "At Home, at War: Tahmima Anam's ‘Golden Age,’" interview with Tahmima Anam.
Tahmima Anam Home Page,http://www.tahmima.com (June, 2008).
Toronto Star Online,http://thestar.com/ (February 7, 2008), Sonia Verma, "Writer Tahmima Anam Brings Bangladesh's History Alive for a New Generation."
HarperCollins Canada Prosecast, http://www.foursevens.com/prosecast/2008/01/23/tahmima-anam-a-golden-age/ (January 23, 2008), Cathi Bond, "Tahmima Anam, A Golden Age."