Nasrin, Taslima 1962-
NASRIN, Taslima 1962-
PERSONAL: Born August 25, 1962, in Mymensingh, East Pakistan (now Bangladesh); daughter of Muhammad Rajab Ali (a physician) and Begum Edul Ara (a homemaker); married first husband (divorced); married second husband (divorced). Education: Attended Muminunnisa College, 1976-78; Mymensingh Medical College, M.B.B.S., 1984. Religion: "Atheist."
ADDRESSES: Home and offıce—Berlin, Germany. Agent—c/o Author Mail, George Braziller Publishers, 171 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016.
CAREER: Writer, 1975—; Health Complex, Mymensingh, Bangladesh, medical officer, 1986-89; S.S.M.C. and Mitford Hospital, Dhaka, Bangladesh, medical officer, 1990-92; Dhaka Medical College Hospital, Dhaka, Bangladesh, medical officer, 1993.
MEMBER: PEN International (English and Canadian chapters).
AWARDS, HONORS: Ananda Bazaar Patrika Award (Calcutta, India), 1992, for Nirbachitha; Kurt Tucholsky prize (Sweden), 1994; Sakharov prize, European Parliament, 1994; human rights prize, French government, 1994; Edict of Nantes prize (France), 1994; honorary doctorate, University of Ghent, Belgium, 1995; Monismanien prize, Uppsala University, 1995.
Sikorey Bipul Khuda (title means "Hunger in Roots"), Sakal [Bangladesh], 1986.
Nirbasito Bahirey Antorey (title means "Banished without and Within"), Bidyaprakash [Bangladesh], 1989.
Amar Kichujae Ase Na (title means "I Couldn't Care Less"), Bidyaprakash [Bangladesh], 1990.
Atoley Antorin (title means "Captive in the Abyss"), Bidyaprakash ]Bangladesh[, 1991.
Nirbachitha (columns), Bidyaprakash [Bangladesh], 1991.
Balikar Gollachut, Bidyaprakash [Bangladesh], 1992.
Nosto Meyer Nosto Godyo (title means "Rotten Proses of a Rotten Girl"), Kakoli, 1992.
Fera (title means "Return"), Gianoosh, 1993.
Lajja (novel; title means "Shame"), Pearl Publications, 1993, English translation by Tutal Gupta, Penguin (New York, NY), 1994.
Choto Choto Dukkho Katha (title means "Little Little Sad Story") Kakoli, 1994.
Dukhoboti Meve (title means "Sad Girls") Maola, 1994.
The Game in Reverse (poetry), 1996.
Amara Meyebela: Mere Bacapana Ke Dina (memoir), two volumes, Vani Praka Sana (Nayi Dilli, Bangladesh), 2000, translation by Gopa Majumdar published as My Girlhood: An Autobiography, Kali for Women (New Delhi, India), 2001, published as Meyebela: My Bengali Girlhood: A Memoir of Growing Up Female in a Muslim World, Steerforth Press (Royalton, VT), 2002.
Pharasi Premika (novel), Ankura Praka Sani (Dhaka, Bangladesh), 2001.
Sodha (novel), Ankura Praka Sani (Dhaka, Bangladesh), 2001.
Utala Haoya (novel), Ankura Praka Sani (Dhaka, Bangladesh), 2002.
Khali Khali Lage (poems), Ankura Praka Sani (Dhaka, Bangladesh), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: Bangladeshi journalist, poet, and novelist Taslima Nasrin lived in exile in Sweden because of death threats issued against her by Islamic fundamentalists in her home country. Outraged by her perceived attacks on their beliefs, a group of such fundamentalists put a price on her life in 1993; this call for Nasrin's assassination, or fatwa, led to comparisons between her situation and that of Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie, who was forced into hiding following death threats from Islamic fundamentalists in 1989. Among Nasrin's controversial works are sexually explicit poetry about the inferior treatment of women under Islamic law and the novel Lajja, which focuses on the plight of religious minorities—especially Hindus—in Bangladesh.
Nasrin was born in 1962, when Bangladesh was still East Pakistan. Like her father, she pursued a medical career, becoming a health officer for the Bangladeshi government, first in her native Mymensingh, then in Dhaka. In this capacity, Nasrin saw firsthand the medical results of religiously sanctioned inferior treatment of women. She began writing, both in newspapers and in poetry, of the cases she had witnessed, notably young girls who had been raped and women of all ages who had been beaten by their husbands and male relatives. She also abandoned the Islamic faith of her childhood and became an atheist.
By 1992, as Mary Anne Weaver reported in the New Yorker, "Angry mobs had begun attacking bookstores that carried [Nasrin's] works; they also attacked her physically at the Dhaka Book Fair—she was more shaken than harmed—and destroyed a stall displaying her books." Undaunted, however, Nasrin began work on Lajja, which displayed sympathy for Hindu minorities within Bangladesh. In particular, the novel focuses on the plight of a fictitious Hindu family after an angry mob destroyed Babri Masjid, a four-hundred-year-old mosque in Ayyodhya, India. The leveling of that mosque was an actual event in 1992 that set off communal conflict in both Bangladesh and India. The novel's publication in 1993 further infuriated Nasrin's Islamic critics, who began to issue death threats against the author. The Bangladeshi government, bowing to Islamic pressure, confiscated Nasrin's passport.
Authors from all over the world rallied to Nasrin's support. They wrote to the Bangladeshi government, and Nasrin's passport was returned. On a subsequent trip to India, she made statements to the press that allegedly called for the revision of the Koran, the holy book of the Islamic religion. Later she claimed she had been misquoted and had only called for the revision of the Shariat law—the religious code of social behavior. According to Weaver, however, "Her denial struck the already outraged as even more provocative than those initial remarks, for in it she wrote that 'the Koran, the Vedas, the Bible and all such religious texts' were 'out of place and out of time.' The clear implication was that they should be abolished, not revised."
Meanwhile, Lajja, which had already sold sixty thousand copies, had been banned in Bangladesh, and after the Koran controversy, the Bangladeshi government issued a warrant for Nasrin's arrest. They utilized what Weaver described as "a rarely used nineteenth-century statute outlawing acts that could inflame religious or communal sensitivities." At this point, Nasrin went into hiding within Bangladesh; after more pressure from literary groups and international authorities, she appeared in court and received bail. Fearing a death penalty if she went to trial, she decided to flee Bangladesh. Ironically, Nasrin wore a traditional Muslim veil to disguise herself as she made her escape. She flew to Stockholm, Sweden, where she lived in hiding for a time. She now resides in Berlin, Germany. She is no longer in hiding, but she travels with a bodyguard and remains exiled from Bangladesh. She returned in 1998, when her mother was dying of cancer, but the angry mob she left behind returned to greet her. She has been unable to visit her aging father. In October, 2002, a court in Gopalganj tried her in absentia and found her guilty of offending the religious beliefs of its citizens, sentencing her to a year in jail should she return.
Weaver characterized Nasrin's writing since the controversy began as "increasingly stark and angry, making references to sexual organs, and featuring tirades against men and an uncompromising rejection of the status quo." Weaver called Nasrin's use of language "Swiftian and direct." Lajja was published in English translation in 1994 and reviewed by Aamer Hussein in the Times Literary Supplement. He observed that "the novel is largely composed of [the protagonist] Suranjan's thoughts, interspersed with newspaper extracts, columns of statistics and unassimilated pseudotracts about the ethnic cleansing to which, in Nasrin's contested version of events, Bangladeshi Hindus were subjected." Like many other critics, Hussein debated Nasrin's literary merit apart from free speech issues but conceded that "she has the makings of a fairly competent writer."
A book of Nasrin's poetry, The Game in Reverse, is also available in English. Uma Parameswaran, reviewing the book for World Literature Today, wrote that "the poems' strength lies in the strong feminist voice that details the imperatives of male dominance. The power exerted by men over women is expressed in poem after poem." Parameswaran also noted that there was nothing particularly incendiary about the selections, save, perhaps, for Nasrin's "romantic nature worship [which] would not place her in jeopardy anywhere except among fundamentalists." In Maclean's, Nomi Morris offered a harsher critique of the poems: "Anger—particularly against men—laces Nasrin's writing, which is based on her own experiences growing up in the countryside, and on the lives of patients she treated while working in a gynecology clinic. Had they been written by a Westerner, many of Nasrin's poems would be dismissed as literarily thin political tracts."
Nasrin's memoir of her childhood (to age fourteen) in Mymensingh, a small town in Bangladesh, was first published in 2000. By 2002 it was translated into English and published in the United States as Meyebela: My Bengali Girlhood: A Memoir of Growing Up Female in a Muslim World. This powerful story begins in 1971, during Bangladesh's war of independence from Pakistan. Once the war is over, Nasrin's family settles into a daily life in which girls are restricted and mistreated. The author tells of her mother, a bright woman who never had a chance to pursue her scholarly interests. She instead turns to religious fanaticism and near worship of the holy man Amirullah. Nasrin's father, openly unfaithful to her mother, is a doctor who pushes his sons and then his daughters to study medicine and become successful. His fits of yelling and his brutal treatment of a son who fails him turn the family against him. Nasrin recounts the lashing and stoning of women in the village for zina (adultery); such cases were contrived by fanatics who supposedly carried out Islamic law in opposition to Bangladeshi civil codes. She also tells of haphazardly arranged marriages of her school friends. As a child, Nasrin herself was beaten by her father and sexually assaulted by uncles. By age fourteen, she had begun to question not only her family, but her country and her faith.
Meredith Tax, in a review of Meyebela for the Nation, commented that near the beginning of the book "we begin to understand the anger that drives the author." Nearly all reviews of the book noted that it shifts time frames unevenly, like memory, and that Nasrin begins to repeat events near the end of the book, but many agreed that Meyebela will be a classic that is likely to be read in schools, especially in the Western world. Tax believed the book, although told in the voice of an angry and imaginative child, displays "bravery, vividness and groundbreaking subject matter" that "make it a remarkable achievement, and one that will live."
Booklist's Gillian Engberg deemed the stories "unforgettable" and said they are told with "cinematic precision." A contributor to Kirkus Reviews dubbed the book "a raw and impassioned account of the making of a young feminist," and a Publishers Weekly reviewer described it as "consistently heartbreaking and sometimes gorgeously written," although the reviewer felt that the ending leaves many unanswered questions.
Yasmine Bahrani, in USA Today, however, pointed out that the book is somewhat one-sided. Bahrani explained that other traditional cultures are also unjust and repressive, and that men of the region, such as Nasrin's brother Chhotda, who was beaten for marrying a Hindu girl, also face social and cultural problems. Bahrani also noted that Nasrin's father did encourage her to become a doctor and provided for her education. However, most reviewers lauded the book. Concluding her review for Indolink, Nora Boustany wrote, "This moving memoir attempts to demonstrate how it is possible for young women to reach within themselves and nurture their own spiritual life in spite of the physicial and emotional pain that men—and tradition-bound societies—can inflict upon them." Since publishing her memoirs, Nasrin has written and published three more novels and a book of poetry.
Nasrin told CA: "I started writing in 1975 when I was a schoolgirl. My two elder brothers used to write poetry and publish literary magazines. I was inspired by their activity and started writing poetry. I like many writers' work, but I am not influenced by any writer. I have great hope in contemporary writers and their work.
"In my country, women are just like slaves. They are not conscious of their rights. Through my books I want to make women conscious. There is inequality, injustice, and discrimination against women, against religious minority communities, and against the poor. I stand for these oppressed people. Lajja, for instance, I wrote to stop communal disharmony. My message was that humanism should be the other name for religion."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Biblio, "Banned in Bangladesh," p. 14.
Booklist, August, 2002, Gillian Engberg, review of Meyebela: My Bengali Girlhood, p. 1912.
Hecate, October, 1995, pp. 9-19.
Humanist, September-October, 1994, pp. 42-44; March-April, 1995, p. 39.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2002, review of Meyebela, p. 938.
Library Journal, November 1, 1997, p. 117.
Maclean's, October 9, 1995, Nomi Morris, review of The Game in Reverse, p. 44.
Nation, November 18, 2002, Meredith Tax, "Taslima's Pilgrimage," p. 34.
New Statesman, February 17, 1995, pp. 20-22.
Newsweek, August 15, 1994, p. 66.
New Yorker, September 12, 1994, article by Mary Anne Weaver, pp. 48-50, 55-60.
New York Times, July 14, 1994, p. A23.
Observer, September, 1995, p. 45.
Publishers Weekly, June 3, 2002, review of Meyebela, p. 73.
Times (London, England), August 14, 1994, p. 4.
Times Literary Supplement, July 29, 1994, Aamer Hussein, review of Lajja, p. 20.
USA Today, September 23, 2002, Yasmine Bahrani, "A Woman's Islamic Journey."
Women's Review of Books, July, 2002, "Growing Up Confused: For a Bengali Muslim Girl, Life Is Full of Contradictions," pp. 7-11.
World Literature Today, spring, 1996, Uma Parameswaran, review of The Game in Reverse, pp. 467-468.
DesiJournal,http://www.desijournal.com/ (March 18, 2003), Poornima Apte, review of Meyebela.
Indolink,http://www.indolink.com/ (March 18, 2003), Nora Boustany, review of Meyebela.*