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Last Updated: Monday, 23 April 2007, 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK
The family story in Bangladesh's war
Tahmima Anam
Anam was born in Bangladesh but lives in London
Bangladeshi writer Tahmima Anam has told the BBC how the stories of her family brought to life her debut novel A Golden Age - already described as one of the most outstanding of recent times.

Set in East Pakistan - now Bangladesh - in 1971, as the country stands on the brink of war, A Golden Age has been hailed as the successor to Monica Ali's Brick Lane and Zadie Smith's White Teeth.

It centres on a mother, Rehana, and how her life with her almost grown-up children changes as the conflict arises.

Anam told BBC World Service's The Ticket programme that her original plan was to write a big, bold book with detailed battles and political characters, but it became more centred on the realities of domestic life in a country descending into war.

"I didn't feel I was able to be as ambitious as I might have hoped - but in exchange for that, I was able to tell the story of ordinary people's lives and how they survived the war," she said.

Grandmother's story

Anam said that she was drawn to writing about the war of independence because everyone in her family was involved in it in some way at the time.

Some family members had actually joined the guerrilla army, while others had housed freedom fighters or become involved in student protests.

Four men suspected of collaborating with Pakistani militiamen  in 1971
The war of independence was brutal in many areas

"I grew up hearing these stories of the war, and it had always fascinated me," she said.

"As you know, Bangladesh is not a place of many successes - and I just wanted to write about a time when people were full of hope and idealism, possibly before some of those hopes were shattered by the realities of the last 35 years."

Anam revealed that the book's main character, Rehana, is based on her grandmother - who was left widowed with four children in the 1950s.

She decided not to remarry, but to raise her children on her own, and then had to face the war.

In one pivotal scene, resistance fighters arrive at Rehana's house and begin digging ditches to bury arms - mirroring an event in Anam's grandmother's life.

"There were arms buried in my grandmother's garden from the beginning of the war - and at some time, three or four months into the war, the arms were taken away - but they forgot to put the dirt back in the garden," Anam said.

"So the army arrived and asked why there was a hole in the garden - and she told a lie, she said 'we're digging a well, because there is no water'.

"Her youngest son was in the house, and they said they would check her story with him. And he said they were digging a well. They hadn't discussed this lie beforehand, but they both told the same lie, and that's what saved their lives."

Much of the book is based on similar human stories - written about individuals rather than battles and military campaigns.

Anam explained that this had happened because she found, when she went to Bangladesh to interview people involved in the war, that their stories "weren't necessarily war stories - they were stories about the people they fell in love with during the war, or what happened to their families, or the things that they ate and those mundane kind of details.

"It seemed to bring alive that time in a way that a larger, more muscular story about war could not really do."


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