May 14, 2011

Books: Take Me Away to Bangladesh

Take Me Away Saturday

This week we are visiting the Asian country of Bangladesh:

Bangladesh is a country on the Southeast Asian subcontinent. It is about the size of the state of Iowa and its capital is Dhaka. Bangladesh is a mostly Muslim country with a rich culture and interesting history. Learn more about Bangladesh here and through the books below.

(There is a list of both countries and cultures visited in past Take Me Away posts at the bottom of this post. Check them out and discover some good books to read and recommend some, too!)


Galpa: Short Stories by Women from Bangladesh
This vibrant and thought-provoking anthology of translated short stories is representative of the variety of issues that women from Bangladesh tackle in their writings. It includes stories about the 1971 War of Liberation, women's "honor," mother-daughter relationships, the vagaries of marriage and contemporary political corruption. Well-established women writers such as Selina Hossain and Nasreen Jehan are represented here, along with emerging writers, the better to evoke the broad range of Bengali women's literary voices. Daring in both form and theme, these stories reveal the exciting transformation that fiction writing is currently experiencing on the contemporary literary scene.

A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam

Rehana Haque, a young widow, blissfully prepares for the party she will host for her son and daughter. But this is 1971 in East Pakistan, and change is in the air. Rehana travels to Calcutta and works at a refugee camp, then returns to Dhaka, Bangladesh, at the height of the Bangladesh War of Independence. A Golden Age is a story of passion and revolution; of hope, faith, and unexpected heroism in the midst of chaos and of one woman's heartbreaking struggle to keep her family safe.

The Hungry Tide by Amitac Ghosh

From the author of the international bestseller The Glass Palace, The Hungry Tide is a novel of adventure and romance set in the exotic Sundarbans—treacherous islands in the Bay of Bengal where isolated inhabitants live in fear of drowning tides and man-eating tigers. A headstrong young American arrives in this lush landscape to study a rare species of river dolphin. She enlists the aid of a local fisherman and a translator, and soon their fates on the waterways will be determined by the forces of nature and human folly.

The Good Muslim: A Novel by Tahmima Amam
Anam deftly weaves the personal and the political, evoking with great skill and urgency the lasting ravages of war and the competing loyalties of love and belief. In the dying days of a brutal civil war, Sohail Haque stumbles upon an abandoned building. Inside he finds a young woman whose story will haunt him for a lifetime to come. . . . Almost a decade later, Sohail's sister, Maya, returns home after a long absence to find her beloved brother transformed. While Maya has stuck to her revolutionary ideals, Sohail has shunned his old life to become a charismatic religious leader. And when Sohail decides to send his son to a madrasa, the conflict between brother and sister comes to a devastating climax. Set in Bangladesh at a time when religious fundamentalism is on the rise, The Good Muslim is an epic story about faith, family, and the long shadow of war.


Notes from a Prison: Bangladesh by Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir
a profound chronicle of an epic struggle to obtain justice within a corrupt system. Unjustly imprisoned on false charges for 22 months from 2007 to 2008, Dr. Alamgir, the former Minister of Planning was promised freedom if he would publicly support the military junta that had seized power, and continued imprisonment on false charges if he refused. He refused, but was finally able to triumph in the end. As he stated in the "Background" to his arrest and imprisonment, "For people loving and yearning for freedom everywhere, this journal will provide telltale signs of an undemocratic government and the institutions such a government is bent to manipulate or destroy. The moral of the story and the tale is that it is only through raising universal consciousness against persecution and tyranny that we humankind can give a better account of ourselves as agents and beneficiaries of civilization. It is by fighting injustice anywhere that we can establish justice everywhere."

A History of Bangladesh by Willem Van Schendel
From ecological disaster to partition, this is a fascinating account of the extraordinary events that have produced modern Bangladesh.

Reshaping the Holy: Democracy, Development, and Muslim Women in Bangladesh by Elora Shehabuddin
Reshaping the Holy may well prove to be one of the works that leads the field of Middle East and Muslim women's studies out of the dilemma in which we feel we must pinpoint and categorize pious women who are also political.Through extensive field research, Elora Shehabuddin explores the profound implications of women's political and social mobilization for reshaping Islam. Specifically, she examines the lives of Muslim women in Bangladesh who have become increasingly mobilized by the activities of predominantly secular NGOs, yet who desire to retain, reclaim, and reshape-rather than reject-their faith.


Mangoes and Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels Through the Great Subcontinent by Jeffrey Alford
For this companion volume to the award-winning Hot Sour Salty Sweet, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid travel west from Southeast Asia to that vast landmass the colonial British called the Indian Subcontinent. It includes not just India, but extends north to Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal and as far south as Sri Lanka, the island nation so devastated by the recent tsunami. For people who love food and cooking, this vast region is a source of infinite variety and eye-opening flavors. Home cooks discover the Tibetan-influenced food of Nepal, the Southeast Asian tastes of Sri Lanka, the central Asian grilled meats and clay-oven breads of the northwest frontier, the vegetarian cooking of the Hindus of southern India and of the Jain people of Gujarat. It was just twenty years ago that cooks began to understand the relationships between the multifaceted cuisines of the Mediterranean; now we can begin to do the same with the foods of the Subcontinent.

Art and Life in Bangladesh by Henry Glassie
Art and Life in Bangladesh presents the country, its landscape and history, its artists and their work. Glassie arrays the potter's works - from useful pots to radiant images of the Hindi deities - and brings us into the company of potters who are poets, historians, and philosophers. The book ascends to the splendid spiritual explanation of art provided by the sculptor Haripada Pal. In conversation with the artists who work the clay, Glassie learned their idea of art, and he applies it to other media, to weaving and shipbuilding, to painting, engraving, and brass casting. The book expands into a comprehensive view of creation in Bangladesh, and it forms an elegant meditation on life and work and the importance of art.


Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos
What is it like to be an illegal alien in New York now? In a moving first-person, present-tense narrative, Nadira, 14, relates how her family left Bangladesh, came to the U. S. on a tourist visa, and stayed long after the visa expired ("Everyone does it. You buy a fake social security number for a few hundred dollars and then you can work."). Their illegal status is discovered, however, following 9/11, when immigration regulations are tightened. When the family hurriedly seeks asylum in Canada, they are turned back, and Nadira's father, Abba, is detained because his passport is no longer valid. The secrets are dramatic ("Go to school. Never let anyone know. Never."), and so are the family dynamics, especially Nadira's furious envy of her gifted older sister, Aisha. But Aisha breaks down, and Nadira must take over the struggle to get Abba out of detention and prevent the family's deportation. The teen voice is wonderfully immediate, revealing Nadira's mixed-up feelings as well as the diversity in her family and in the Muslim community. There's also a real drama that builds to a tense climax: Did Abba give funds to a political organization? Where has the money gone? Will Immigration hear his appeal? The answer is a surprise that grows organically from the family's story. Readers will feel the heartbreak, prejudice, kindness, and fear.


Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins
Ten-year-old Naima longs to earn money to help her poor Bangladeshi family, but her talent in painting traditional patterns, or alpanas, is no use. While considering whether she could disguise herself as a boy and try to drive her father's rickshaw, she wrecks the vehicle and its painted tin sides on a test-drive, threatening the family's sole livelihood. Her solution is to steal away, disguised as a boy, to a repair shop and offer her services painting decorations on the rickshaws. She is surprised to find that the owner is a woman. When Naima reveals herself, she is hired on the condition that her father will keep bringing her for training at the shop, so that her paintings will help the business. The future looks bright for the girl and her family. Short chapters, well-delineated characters, soft black-line pastel illustrations, and a child-appropriate solution enrich this easy-to-read chapter book that would also appeal to less-able middle school readers. The rich back matter includes an informative glossary of Bangla words, plus a valuable author's note that explains the process of microfinance and its results for poor women in rural markets. Grades 2-5.

Bangladesh (Cultures of the World) by Mariam Whyte
Describes the geography, history, government, economy, people, religion, language, arts, leisure, festivals, and food of Bangladesh. Grades 3-5.

B is for Bangladesh (World Alphabets) by Urmi Rahman
As the title suggests, this alphabetical visit to Bangladesh begins with “Ankhee” or eyes and concludes with “Zhinuk” or seashells. The vivid, clearly reproduced photographs speak volumes, but the brief narrative does not always explain the pictures fully. In the first photograph, for instance, the author explains the black kohl spot on the baby, but not the red spot on the mother’s face. Terms such as “kohl,” “Mughal,” and “Hindu” appear without definition. A very simple map shows only Bangladesh’s position in Asia and the location of Dhaka. Like a collection of postcards, this is an attractive visual invitation to Bangladesh, but students will need more substantial sources to explain some of the terms and customs introduced here. Grades 1-3.

This is, of course, just a sampling of books on Bangladesh and Bangladeshi life for you to read. Do you want to recommend/share books that take place in Bangladesh? Or do you want to share other thoughts? Please leave a note in the comments!

Be sure to check back for our next trip in books! :)

Here is what is coming up next:
African country of South Africa
Culture of the Cherokee Nation

Where we've been and the books that take us there:
The Americas and the Caribbean
Triple Threat-Baltic States
Middle East
Sierra Leone
Australia, Pacific Islands
New Zealand
Cultures Across the World
Australian Aborigines
Sioux Nation
Inuit Culture
Amish Culture


  1. I love it when you do these posts! There are a few of these that I am going to add to my possibilities list.

  2. What a great list! I love that you include cookbooks and YA. Terrific!

  3. This post is a great resource on the literature of Bangladesh-I am currently reading a lot of South Asian Short stories-an excellent resource for short stories and poems written by residents of Bangladesh can be found at

  4. I got "A Golden Age" a couple of years ago but still haven't gotten around to reading it. Thanks for reminding me about it!

  5. Thanks for this great list of books! I've read a lot of Indian and Pakistani authors, but I don't think I've ever run across one set or written by someone from Bangladesh. Thank for sharing so I can check one out!


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