A stalwart advocate for freedom of speech, Taslima Nasrin is an exiled political and artistic refugee who has had her share of literary revenge. Despite her work being banned in Bangladesh and India, and even as multiple fatwas have called for her head, she continues to write, speak out, and win awards around the world. Her latest North American release, Revenge (Feminist Press, 2010), is a short novel whose title, in keeping with the life of its author, promises struggle and ready action.
The novel’s protagonist, Jhumur, a budding physicist in modern Bangladesh, takes pride in her free-spirited nature. After she meets Haroon, however, her independent streak becomes grounded. Once married, the doting and loving Haroon of their passionate courtship is abruptly transformed. Jhumur is startled to find her husband suddenly indifferent and cold toward his new wife. All the while, Jhumur, too, has changed. Willingly, albeit begrudgingly, she sacrifices her sacred liberty to cook for and look after her new family. Once a modern and empowered woman, Jhumur—servile, her world now circumscribed—plays the role of the traditional Muslim wife. She cannot leave the apartment without a male escort, her head must be covered at all times; when she laughs too loudly, Haroon berates her for impropriety. Jhumur soon realizes that the life she had imagined with her partner is nothing but a fantasy. It seems she has been swindled. And yet, she continues to hold out hope for an ideal marriage. In the opening pages of Revenge we discover that she is pregnant with Haroon’s child. In her eyes, the unborn child might just rekindle the fire in their relationship. But Haroon refuses to believe that the child is his, and so demands an immediate, discreet end to the problem.
Haroon’s implausible 180-degree turn in attitude and demeanor toward Jhumur is foreboding for the rest of the reading experience. Nothing in the text leading up to this personality change lends to the idea that Jhumur is naïve, that she is easily fooled by fronts put on by others for her benefit. Further, there is no indication that either Haroon or his family actually contrived to trap her into a stifling marriage. A savvy, college- educated woman with modern sensibilities, it is unlikely she would fall for such a ruse. Haroon’s abrupt turnaround in behavior toward Jhumur coupled with Jhumur’s susceptibility toward her newfound circumstances is a thinly sketched plot vehicle. Nasrin seemingly forces the moves to set up the story’s primary conceit, Jhumur’s act of revenge.
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Bangladesh, Islam, Translation