On a long-awaited critical anthology of Bangladeshi literature in English

For anyone with an academic or amateur interest in Bangladeshi writings in English, this must be a long overdue book. The publication of Mohammad A Quayum and Md. Mahmudul Hasan – edited Bangladeshi literature in English: A Critical Anthology (July 2021), perhaps the first of its kind, therefore came as welcome news, and I congratulate the Asian Society of Bangladesh for releasing it amid the ongoing pandemic, this three hundred – Useful collection page with a decent hard cover and crisp composition.

In the “Editors’ Introduction” it is emphasized that the history of Anglophone Bangladeshi writing is not to be understood as contemporary with the birth of Bangladesh as an independent nation, but rather that the tradition dates back to the early days. of the colonial meeting, in British Bengal, when The Voyages of Dean Mahomet (1794) had been published. It can therefore be considered “one of the oldest and most illustrious English-language literary traditions outside the English-speaking world”. Publishers do not fail to record contributions from English middle schools, English departments at universities, English dailies and their literary pages, literary anthologies published occasionally by newspapers, such as The Daily Star Book of Bangladeshi Writing (2006) or The news of the new age (2006) – literary festivals (such as the Dhaka Lit Fest) to the growth of this creativity in post-independence Bangladesh. On the contrary, as they report, writers are eternally faced with practical and ideological challenges thwarting their smooth flourishing: the ever-lingering linguism of Bengali and the essentially duplicity position of the political / intellectual elite in this regard – a point also raised. by Kaiser Haq in his interview here with co-editor Mohammad A Quayum, that although English is widely used in the country and adopted by writers as a means of creation, it “still has no official position in culture or the constitution of Bangladesh “.

At present, the English literature of Bangladesh (hereinafter BEL) is a substantial body of writing spanning different genres and themes, and this anthology, of course, cannot be exhaustive or fully representative of the tradition; rather it represents, in the words of the editors, “some of the best critical papers on Bangladeshi literature in Englishh…, balancing it with discussions about the maximum number of new or established writers we could welcome. The same logic explains why chapters might include discussions only of fiction and poetry, or why the works of Bangladeshi diaspora writers take up more than half of the book’s space.

We can only praise the careful organization of this collection: fifteen chapters are divided into four distinct sections, well titled; within sections, again, chapters are listed in chronological order according to the seniority of the authors covered. The inaugural section, “A Pre-Independence Pioneer” devotes two separate chapters to Begum Rokeya which explore some less frequented areas of Rokeya’s critique: on Islamic imagery in Rokeya’s work. Hasan’s use of the phrase “Muslim Bengal Writes Back” in the title of his chapter is indeed significant.

The next section, “Scriptures from Bangladesh” contains three chapters: from various cultures and continents. In the last chapter of this section, Rifat Mahbub and Anika Saba deal with three “Partition Stories of East Bengal / East Pakistan” by Syed Waliullah, Abu Rushd and Ashraf Siddiqui, all taken from Niaz Zaman’s anthology, The escape and other stories.

The largest section, “Writings of the Diaspora” consists of seven chapters: Adib Khan and Monica Ali receive special attention with two exclusive chapters dedicated to each of them. Stefano Mercanti explores the tensions of displacement and belonging and the protagonists’ relentless quest for self-knowledge in Adib Khan’s Homecoming and Spiral Road while Andrew Hock Soon Ng decodes the “warped body / space politics” in The Khan’s storyteller. In this section, Mahmudul Hasan writes about Monica Ali’s Brick Lane and argues that “transplanting the South Asian model of domestic isolation into the diaspora” is proving to be “a futile patriarchal attempt” as women “will find ways of interact with the outside world ‘at this time. technological advancements and ubiquitous social media. Susan Stanford Friedman, on the other hand, reads the resonances of two classic tales of early 20th century British and Irish modernism – Ulysses by Joyce and Mrs. Woolf’s Dalloway – in Brick Lane, advocating the ambiguity and creative tensions of cosmopolitan multiplicity. Ali appears again, along with Tahmima Anam and Zia Hider Rahman, in the chapter contributed by Fayeza Hasanat. Very interesting, Hasanat finds parallels between the characters of Dickens and those of these writers: Chanu of Brick Lane becomes a “postcolonial Pip” while Sohail of The Good Muslim builds his own Satis House on the edifice of religion. There is also a separate chapter on Anam’s fiction, where Farzana Akhter explains how women, through the “politics of active national oblivion”, confront a “masculinist obliteration” of their contributions to war and to religion. nation building. The remaining chapter of this section is on the blame of Dilruba Z Ara where Sanjib Kr Biswas and Priyanka Tripathi describe the story of this Swedish-Bangladeshi writer to show how ‘blame’ seems to be a pretext in the form of what family, society , nation — all are trying to undo their respective crimes against the Biranganas.

The final section is something special about this compilation featuring intriguing / engaging conversations – the first two with acclaimed Dhaka-based first generation writers from the post-independence period, and the third with a Bangladeshi artist from British origin. The interviews offer a glimpse into their creative journey by highlighting the challenges they encountered, the inspirations behind their work, their accomplishments, the issues that most engage them and also what they intend to write or undertake at the same time. ‘to come up. Jackie Kabir chats with Niaz Zaman and brings out the diversity of her creativity and the incredible amount of work – as a teacher, editor, writer, editor, translator – that she has managed to accomplish mostly “behind the scenes”. The phrase in the title of Kaiser Haq’s interview, “a high-level hijra,” highlights, albeit in a playful manner, Haq’s ambiguity about himself as a writer. Of his iconic poem “Ode on the Lungi”, Haq recalls: “The poem took a long time to germinate, but once I got the idea to call on Walt Whitman, it all fell into place. in place.” Sanchita Islam is also a versatile genius – writer, photographer, music composer, painter – who believes, as she tells her interviewer Elisabetta Marino, that art can treat mental illnesses as well as many other diseases of our time.

There are attempts to historicize a literary tradition, evident in the editors’ meticulous study of the literary landscape from its inception until it becomes visible and vibrant, as well as in their concern for maintaining order. chronological order of the materials presented in the volume. Attempts also exist to appropriate and bring the BLE discourse to the forefront of the broader spectrum of Bangladeshi life, history and culture in general. It is therefore important that publishers consider the appellation “Bangladeshi literature in English“for their title, in line with the History of Indian Literature in English by MK Naik (1990).

While the anthology will surely do BEL a huge service, it could have been a bit more ambitious in terms of critical coverage of writers and genres. In fact, the editors themselves express their displeasure at not being able to include chapters on writers like Nirad C. Chaudhuri, Razia Khan Amin and others, and on drama, autobiography, travelogue or d other types of prose. A significant part of the book is taken up by fiction, and the one article on poetry does not really live up to the achievements of the poets, especially the multitude of young poets. Despite these limitations, Bangladeshi literature in English: A Critical Anthology remains an impressive collection and a rewarding read, and I hope the volume will be able to inspire creative writers as well as academic practitioners to flourish more enthusiastically in this ancient but still literary tradition. evolving.

Maswood akhter is a professor in the Department of English at Rajshahi University.

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