The Good Muslim is the second novel in a trilogy, and sequel to A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam (review here). It’s been twelve years since the war of independence, but the people of Bangladesh don’t really have much more freedom or stability than they did before the war: a dictator is in power, war criminals are still roaming free with their crimes unaccounted for, and women who were raped in that brutal war have not seen any justice.
This sequel is largely from the perspective of Maya, whose voice we hear very little of in the first book. In the last decade, Maya has qualified as a doctor and, impelled by working with victims of rape during the war delivering babies and performing abortions, she has been working as a country doctor helping pregnant women in villages. She is not welcomed by the men of the village, and after a particularly bad experience, Maya makes her way back home to Dhaka to face the family she has not seen in over ten years.
Sohail is no longer the brother Maya loved and was inseparable from before the war; Sohail has embraced a conservative form of Islam and has become a charismatic religious leader. Maya, herself a Marxist with no love for her religion, is unable to understand her brother’s conversion. The main crux of the story lays on Maya’s desperation to make a connection with her brother. Although she also fought for the liberation of her people, Maya did not fight on the battleground and cannot understand the psychological effects the war had on her brother. The guilt of war left Sohail in despair and he found his only hope for redemption through religion. Maya knows that her brother is lost to her, but she must make one last fight to save his little son Zaid, who has been neglected and deprived of a normal life.
This is a much darker story than it’s predecessor, and possibly less enjoyable too. Anam’s poetical skills are still apparent in A Good Muslim, but I was quite confused over the descriptions of Sohail’s religious practices as I never understood exactly what was going on – it was all very cultish and slightly disturbing.
It is, nonetheless, a very poignant portrayal of the psychological effects of war and it’s consequences. As in A Golden Age, the family becomes a microcosm for the unstable state of the country, but in this sequel there’s a real sense of permanent loss and desolation. There is a happy ending of sorts, but the climax of the book was truly heartbreaking for me and I just couldn’t get past it to the victory at the end.