BOOK REVIEW: THE EARTHEN LAMP JOURNAL: RIVER OF MY BLOOD by SELINA HOSSAIN and DANGLE by SUTAPA BASU

















River of my Blood: Selina Hossain: edited by Dr Pascal Zinck: translated by Jackie Kabir
Publisher: Rupa Publications
Genre: Fiction
Extent: 215 pp
Price: Rs 295

Dangle: Sutapa Basu
Publisher: readomania.com
Genre: Fiction
Extent: 252 pp
Price: Rs 250


Here are a couple of books that deal with the human condition, in times of the war without and the war within themselves. The jury may still be out regarding the real winners of the conflict but there can be no doubting the intensity of and the passion involved in the struggle, in both cases.

River of my Blood tells the story of Boori from Haldi village in what was formerly East Pakistan; both the protagonist as well as her village are swept into the maelstrom of the nine-month war of independence that gave birth to Bangladesh in 1971, both learning the hard way to survive and live to tell the tale.

Boori is an interesting woman, with all the attendant desires and longings. She eyes the personable Jalil with some interest but is married off to Gafoor, much older but quite caring and protective. Gafoor has two sons, Salim  and Kalim from his first marriage and Boori tries, in fits and starts,  to be a good mother to the growing boys. Eventually, after a long period of hope interspersed with despair, Boori gives birth to her own child,  Rais. It`s a quiet life lived in relative peace, and then of course, the peace shatters into a million little pieces. Calls for independence from Pakistan rent the small country, young men eagerly join to do their bit in the Muktijuddho, the war of liberation, and Salim is one of those young men. The situation worsens by the day, rape and pillage becomes commonplace and Boori hurriedly sends Salim`s wife Ramija  to the relative safety of the latter`s father`s house. She herself digs in, preparing for the worst even as her woman`s heart has not given up hoping for freedom, for better times.  And then, in a violent spasm that tears apart Haldi village, the soldiers come back, looking for fresh prey,  and Boori is forced to make an awful sacrifice.

The latent resources, the hidden strength of a village woman, is delineated well enough in the character of Boori. The way she buries her secret dreams and goes with the flow in pragmatic fashion, just as she handles each crisis, domestic and external, that comes her way with courage and resolve, cannot but impress the reader. A land convulsed with pain and violent conflict forms the backdrop of the novel and is sensitively portrayed. However, the translation is extremely awkward and the usage of quaint and not entirely the most felicitous terms (a fit of anxiety is termed as pins and needles; this war is getting to my head, moans a character; neither of them could wink an eye is meant to convey the sleepless state of a couple of characters),  does rather tend to put the burden on the reader, the burden of sifting past these wince-worthy passages to get to the core of the story.

Dangle, in comparison, is a smoother read. It`s a contemporary tale of a lissome young lass who goes by the name of Ipshita, and her attempts to carve a niche for herself in a winner-takes-all world. She`s pretty, she`s successful, men woo her, she has a good line in repartee, she`s not wet behind the ears, she seems reassuringly normal. To all outward appearances,  Ips is doing well, a popular travel chat show host grabbing both attention and appreciation alike. There is a close-knit support group who has Ips` back: a loving mother and father, as well as friend Adi. Somewhere in the background, there is a loving elder sister and her lizard-eyed husband. And so our girl careens around the world, Chicago one day, Leimakhong in Manipur the next, a beach resort off Singapore the next, doing what she has to do to earn a living, as well as meeting some interesting if mysterious men like Amar and Steve en route. It`s a good life. Seemingly.

Ips can tackle just about anything; anything but the demons of her own mind, that is. Early enough into the story,  the reader is given a glimpse into the turmoil of Ips`s mind, which is linked to a childhood trauma. There are also a series of quick reveals  of just what causes those demons to raise their vicious heads on and off. Then again, for a long while into this romance/ thriller, both the main character Ipshita,  as well as the reader,  do not take these `squirming snakes` seriously enough. Soon enough, though, they move to the forefront and the sympathetic reader watches Ips try and tackle the critters to the ground.  Does Ips succeed? Will she find love? Well, regardless of what befalls Ips, you`ll find no spoilers here; to know more, you will have to read Dangle. And while on that word, it is really a feeble connect between the title of Ipshita`s story and the way she views life; it`s like the author was first searching for an intriguing title and then joining the dots.  

Books like these serve as encouragement to writers who have a story to tell and want their voice to be heard, and that has to be lauded. As someone or the other said, every story finds its reader. And if the story strikes a chord, the book will then stay the course.


Sheila Kumar is an independent writer and manuscript editor, as well as author of a collection of short stories titled Kith and Kin (Rupa Publications). She blogs at
bindersfullawords.blogspot.com, themelekatbook.blogspot.com and  bindersfulla.blogspot.com

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