The Black Coat by Neamat Imam
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
What to say about a book that says in its cover, "A dark dystopian portrait of Bangladesh under Prime Minister Sheikh Mujib"?
The thing to learn from this line is that there is a very high probability of getting hurt if you are a Sheikh Mujib fan but may find it intensely pleasing if you psyche is the other way around. Now that I've read it I have a lot of question about the authenticity of some of the data I came to know. Let me see the book through the eye of a foreigner, the way I read books about Cold War, Second World War, Vietnam War, Iraq War; mostly written by an American writer. Although the incidents I mentioned are all wars, this book is not about Bangladesh Liberation War but about the events that followed the war.
The newly born nation has formed its government almost one year after the liberation. But but a famine struck the country before every sector of the administrator became stable. According to the legends the words that Mujib says, "After the liberation I'm left with a bunch of thieves." The famine takes a lot of life. And amidst of this we get a story of a newly unemployed journalist, a young boy who came to capital to find work. There is another major character named 'Moina Mia' who is the representative of the Political Leaders of that time.
The story is well written in many short sentences including a lot of lectures about what everyone's duty in the country is. It is described in the first person view of the journalist Khaleq Biswas who upon struck with unemployment uses the silent, carefree boy Nur Hossain to create a fake Sheikh Mujub and exploits people's admiration about Sheikh Mujib. But as the story progressed the prime minister Sheikh Mujib becomes more and more notorious among the public for his wrong decisions. And the journalist's protegé begin to have a say of his own and being the person 'nothing to loose', his thoughts show some fiery explosions, which in turn make the relation between the journalist and the boy very complicated.
The character Moina Mia a Member of Parliament is the typical politician of the south asia. He is more concerned about the leader's fame than the well being of the people. He spends enough money to print enough copies of 'Sheikh Mujib - OUR PROTECTOR' so that everyone in the proximity can have five copies of it, than spending the money for providing food for the starving people. And uses Militia to a great extent. His working force is described who were dumb and became more dumber as the party sucked intelligence out of them.
One thing I must mention, that the author has spent enough time and word to justify each action of every character and didn't leave it to the reader. Even the seemingly fraud journalist will make sense at times. And this cheat, even though changes his opinion time to time, will convince you that he is right.
The prime minister appears only one time in the whole novel. And he is portrayed as the person who loves his people and he should not be asked any questions. Even though at later part we see how unsatisfied the people were. And the small number of books of Bangladeshi writes that I've read, I found that, they all had satisfying conclusion. This book is not an exception to that. The conclusion is satisfying as well as shocking, the poor perishes, the middle class loathes itself, and the upper class gets away. A spot on ending.
Now that I've said that, as a Bangladeshi I doubt some aspects. The writer informed that only 0.3 million people died in the war. But I believe it is 3 million. I have a lot of other questions, but let them slide.
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