‘The Bones of Grace’ in 21st century Bangladesh

The arc of history sweeps across 50 million years in Tahmima Anam’s new novel The Bones of Grace. At one end, in the Early Eocene era before the end of the dinosaurs, is the Ambulocetus natans, a walking whale. At the other end, in 21st century Bangladesh, is the search of an adopted child for her birth parents. Linking the two is the narrator and central protagonist, Zubaida Haque. This is the third novel of Anam’s Bangladesh trilogy, completing the project that started with A Golden Age (2007) and The Good Muslim (2011). A layered love story set across two sides of the world and written as a long letter from the narrator, The Bones of Grace has a more personal and intimate tone than the previous two novels. A graduate student at Harvard, Zubaida is studying a milestone in evolutionary history: “the moment, somewhere around 50 million years ago, when whales began to swim.” She is also on a personal quest to find her biological parents and discover her individual history. Days before leaving for fieldwork, she meets and falls in love with Elijah, an American pianist. But work on the dig goes horribly wrong. Deeply shaken, Zubaida returns to Bangladesh and agrees to marry Rashid, her childhood sweetheart and son of her parent’s closest friends. The very next day after the wedding, she is aware it has been the wrong decision. Life in her in-laws’ home is one of idle privilege. After she has a miscarriage, she escapes her stifling life in the wealthy joint family by going to work on a documentary film about Chittagong shipbreakers. Whether it is the treatment of intellectual work, physical labour, or the moral, ethical work of the conscience and the law, one of the pleasures of this novel is the attentiveness and respect with which it describes collaborative human endeavour. Book available at online bookstore.

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