By Ekta R. Garg
September 21, 2011
Rated: Borrow it
Displaced children provide the world with one of the saddest results of any war. What do these children experience? Where does their understanding of their fractured lives begin? Using Bangladesh’s war for independence as the foundation, first-time novelist Abu Zubair tells the story of one such war baby.
Most young people struggle with the question of identity at some point, but protagonist Alex doesn’t even know where his identity begins. All he knows is that at the age of four months he was adopted by Jack and Laura McKensie and brought in 1972 from the newly-formed country of Bangladesh to the United States.
The Silent and the Lost begins with Alex’s wedding day in 1997. He marries the love of his life, Sangeeta. But despite beginning a charmed married life, Alex’s past haunts him. He wonders during his wedding ceremony and the days following about his mother and who she was. Finally he decides to seek the answers to his questions by going to Bangladesh himself.
The story then reverts to 1971, on the threshold of the revolution that eventually led to the creation of Bangladesh. Newlyweds Rafique and Nahar find themselves marching and cheering their fellow citizens in East Pakistan as everyone expresses the same thought. The new husband and wife wish for the freedom to live their married life the way they deem right. But the West Pakistanis have no intention of letting go of East Pakistan quite so easily.
On March 25, 1971 Pakistani President General Yahya Khan initiated Operation Searchlight, a military action to bring the East Pakistani citizens in line with the status quo. In the following nine months, West Pakistani military soldiers committed every horrendous act known to man to try to prove that East Pakistan would never become an independent nation. The East Pakistanis, in turn, formed a band of independence guerillas called the Mukti Bahini.
With the fires of their burning cities glowing in his heart, Rafique leaves his wife with his parents and joins the Mukti Bahini. And Nahar bides her time in her in-laws’ home, torn between her wish for a free Bangladesh and her heart’s desire to have her husband return safely.
Author Zubair provides modern-day readers with a much-needed history lesson. His prose sparkles with imaginative descriptions and beautiful imagery. Having lived through those terrifying nine months in pre-independence Bangladesh, Zubair captures with first-hand knowledge the sorrow, the fear, the panic, and the shock that East Pakistani citizens experienced as they fought tooth and nail for their rights. Zubair expresses in notes at the end of the book his hope that the book becomes a tribute to those who are forced to remain silent because of the atrocities committed against them and to those who have been lost in the war; his book, undoubtedly, is a fitting tribute.
It is unfortunate, then, that smaller issues of writing and editing hinder readers from fully embracing the story. Protagonist Alex embarks on a journey to discover his identity, but readers don’t spend much time with him. Because the story hinges on his quest, more time with him and his identity struggles would have strengthened the novel.
The bulk of the book details Rafique’s part in the militaristic maneuvers undertaken by the Mukti Bahini. While the first several chapters of this section capture interest, many phrases and ideas are repeated unnecessarily. After a while readers might find themselves impatient for the end.
Even when the climax occurs—the event that would define Alex’s existence—Zubair gives it to readers only in hints. Readers never get that “closure” at the end. Granted, war is messy and many stories connected to it do not have neatly packaged endings. But in a story exuding so much pain and loss—especially one that began with a quest for self—more definite answers would have given the story a more powerful ending.
The book needed a stricter editor’s hand; extra prepositions abound, weighing down the story with unnecessary words, and footnotes in several places only detract from the main piece. The pertinent information in these footnotes would have served readers better in an addendum. Verb tenses change mid-page and sometimes even mid-paragraph once again causing the reader to disengage from the story for a moment, which is a crucial let-down in a war story that aims to engage in every word, line, paragraph, and page.
But I still recommend this book, again, as a necessary history lesson. In a world where people have increased access to one another and one another’s cultures, stories of this nature become more important now than ever. The Silent and the Lost gives today’s readers a helping hand in understanding the past so they are equipped to help the future.
What the ratings mean:
Bookmark it!–Read this book and then buy it and add it to to your own collection. It’s definitely worth it!
Borrow it–Check this one out from the library; it’s a worthy read, but think twice before spending your hard-earned money on it.
Bypass it–Free time is precious. Don’t spend it on this book!