Of Blood and Fire by Jahanara Imam
Title: Of Blood and Fire–The Untold Story of Bangladesh’s War of Independence
Author: Jahanara Imam
Genre: non-fiction; memoir
Length: 107 pages (of 246–unfinished)
Source: public library
Challenges/Resolutions: Around the World in 12 Books Challenge (2012)
Of Blood and Fire is the diary of Jahanara Imam, who chronicles life in Bangladesh just before, during, and after Bangladesh declared its independence from Pakistan in March 1971.
To be honest, I didn’t care much for this memoir. I tried, really I did. But I didn’t even manage to get halfway through it. It was certainly eye-opening to how bloody a revolution can be in a more modern world. While that bloodiness wasn’t described in gory detail, I’m sure seeing hundreds of dead bodies and people carted off to who knows where was quite traumatic. I was very glad, for that reason, to read this from the perspective of a Bengalee–the story would be WAY different from the perspective of an American (for instance) who just happened to be there while all this happened. It amazes me that there are still countries in the world that aren’t very old, independence-wise. True, the US is pretty young at its 236 years compared to much of Europe. But there have been a lot of re-boundaried countries and new countries in the 20th century, especially after WWII.
But I digress, the reason for which I disliked this book were basically that the diary focused on too much personal stuff. I know, that’s silly. I keep a diary, too–I know that hardly anyone else would ever be interested in what I write about. But I suppose I was expecting a little more than a running list of what acquaintances are accounted for and alive or dead and what parts of the city (Dhaka) are safe and who is moving their family from and to where.
I read this book to complete the second month of Shannon at Giraffe Days’ Around the World in 12 Books Challenge for 2012 which was Bangladesh. To discuss the book a little more, here are some questions Shannon came up with for the challenge:
1) What did you learn about the country’s culture, history etc. from reading this book? Any new insights, any shifts in your perception, or did it align with what you knew/understood already?
2) How did land, geography, flora and fauna feature in the book? Did it have a distinct feel that helped you visualise and made you feel like you were there, or was the story more focused on plot?
3) Did the story make you want to visit/revisit the country, or explore it in a new way if you live there already; did it make you want to read more stories set in the country?
1) I did learn about Bangladesh’s revolution from Pakistan. Until 1971 (and I’m not sure from what time), Bangladesh was “East Pakistan”, separated from Pakistan proper by the whole of India! It’s strange that I don’t even know how Pakistan came to be in possession of what is now Bangladesh. I can understand Hawaii and the US because there isn’t anything between them. But why didn’t India get Bangladesh? Anyways, I wasn’t aware that Bangladesh was such a new country–hardly 40 years old–and I definitely didn’t know how bloody the revolution was. Not that I expected it to be all che
ery or anything. But ever since television, I think it’s harder to get away with such brutality. I realize television now and television 40 years ago is very different. But in the 1970s, the US was really liking its whole “let’s get involved in everything” policy. Maybe I just didn’t go far enough–I only got to June 1971 and the revolution began in late March.
2) It was pretty hard for me t
o visualize the story. Imam spoke a lot about Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. But, as most diaries go, Dhaka wasn’t described–it was assumed the reader knew what the writer was speaking about. And, as the book was a memoir, not a novel, there wasn’t really a plot to it.
3) There isn’t really anything in the book that makes me want to visit nor stay away from Bangladesh. I would be interested in some more modern fiction set in Bangladesh, definitely.