Fear and loving

<strong>A Golden Age</strong>

Tahmima Anam <em>John Murray, 288pp, £14.99</em>

ISBN 0719560098

Tahmima Anam's debut novel unfolds against the backdrop of Bangladesh's war of independence. As a young widow struggling to cope after the sudden death of her husband, Rehana Haque is forced to give up her children and to allow relatives to care for her daughter, Maya, and son, Sohail. The repercussions of this decision echo through all their lives, and her pain and regret over having to part with them when they were young fuels her need to keep them safe when their world erupts into violence.

Set in East Pakistan in 1971, the novel weaves Rehana's tale into the broader story of a country at war. Both her children are politically active, taking risks for what they believe in, and Rehana's love and fear for them are tangible.

A Golden Age is an ambitious and powerful debut. It features some fine writing with rich and vivid imagery – Anam's descriptions of food preparation, of the aromas

of the kitchen, are particularly strong – but Rehana's character is not always easy to get a handle on. The personal and the political elements of the novel often seem to be fighting against each other

for prominence, and there is a disjointed quality to some of the plotting. As a result, it is not quite as gripping or as moving as it could be, though an impressive piece of work all the same.