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             Volume 11 |Issue 06| February 10, 2012 |


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Book Review

A Clever Collection

Anthologies are always a welcome addition to the repertoire of reading material. The variety, not to mention brevity, of stories sometimes read in a span of fifteen minutes per story, is often the main attraction. Of course quality matters and there is nothing more tiresome than going through a series of little stories that just don't go anywhere.

What the Ink?
published by Writers Block
pages: 183

Which is why having a group of writers in one anthology is a clever and popular idea. 'What the ink?' is a collection of short stories, extracts and poems by a vibrant group of young Bangladeshi writers that quirkily calls itself 'Writer's Block'.

What is delightful about this anthology is the discovery of so many upcoming English language writers living in our own land. All the writers have had a good dose of international exposure - many have lived abroad in spurts, travelled extensively, a few are of foreign origin, others have spent most of their lives in foreign lands. The stories therefore, give glimpses of Bangladeshis with predominantly western sensibilities and how they gel or clash with the culture of their motherland.

The collection is indeed a mixed bag. Some stories are cleverly woven with the element of surprise and revelation of difficult truths. Others are slightly amateurish, predictable and could even be accused of being a little presumptuous. In that sense one does wonder why the stories were not more carefully chosen.

The stories however, give an intimate tour into the human psyche and explore some of its unsavoury sides hidden behind veneers of normalcy. Thematically quite a few of the stories are quite intriguing.

'South Ghazaliya' by Saad Z Hossain, certainly stands out for realistically conjuring up the cold, mercenary, dehumanised minds of various armed groups fighting each other in a war that has lost its purpose. The details are complicated but bloodcurdling enough to want one to go on reading; but alas, this is only the first chapter of Hossain's book: Baghdad Immortals.

Completely defying the conventional themes of story-telling Farah Ghuznavi's 'Mosquito Net Confessions' describes a parallel journey of a young, urban Grameen Bank worker, trying to prove her worth to the world and herself while on an eventful trip to a village with a group of foreigners. Almost like a documentary, although spiced up with dry humour, Ghuznavi adeptly brings out the conflicts between the urban and rural, the foreign and local as well as the particular challenges faced by women, whether they are western educated urbanites or deprived village women. Ghuznavi, who has been published abroad in literary journals and other anthologies and received commendation for her work in the Commonwealth Short Story Competition, among other accolades, writes in a lucid, no- nonsense style to tell stories of characters that are both believable yet unusual.

On the other side of the spectrum is 'Rachael's Story' by Masud Khan Sujon, the backdrop of which is the US. The story is told through jumps into the past and present and gives the perspective of a troubled young American woman who is irresistibly drawn to two Bengali men.

'Shifting Plates' by Munize Manzur, on the other hand, is a chapter in the lives of a middle- class Bangladeshi family where generations clash and change takes place often as violently as a tectonic shift.

'Under The Tree' by M K Aaref, an architect by profession, are based on flashbacks of an Indian woman who cannot forget her happy childhood in Uganda, the land her ancestors had settled in. Now forced to live in the US after the purge of Indians from the land she once called home, she just cannot let go of the past.

Sadaf Saaz Saaz Siddiqi whose passionate poetry has already attracted attention, gives a few samples of her lyrical style in 'Tikli and Glass Bangles' and 'Among this All'.

Then there's 'Glitterati', an extract from a novel in progress. It's author, Srabonti Narmeen Ali, gives a brutally candid picture of the westernised urban rich of Dhaka desperately trying to create their Club Med in a heartless city while struggling with the emotional emptiness that goes hand in hand with their lifestyles.

Female sexuality is dealt with quite openly in many of the stories, especially those by the women writers of this group, indicating an unexpected boldness that acknowledges realities that a society like ours is reluctant to acknowledge.

'For the love of...' by Shazia Omar is a cocktail of sensuality, mystery and corruption of the soul. She weaves a bizarre, fascinating tale narrated by a male psychiatrist. It is about the strange fates of two of his patients that he inadvertently brings together. With a debut novel under her belt, Omar certainly knows how to capture the reader's attention till the very end.

Bangladesh is often considered the slowest runner in the race of English fiction writing from South Asia. 'What the Ink', despite a few hiccups, challenges this notion. It gives the idea that there are quite a few Bangladesh-based writers ready for the competition.


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