The third book of the Bangladesh series, The Bones of Grace by Tahmima Anam stands out as a roller coaster ride of emotions, spread over the background of the new Bangladesh and a small shipping yard in Chittagong. And in between this beautiful mess, Anam’s protagonist, Zubaida narrates how her life completely changed when she fell in love with Elijah Strong.
Most of the June I was busy with Tahmima Anam’s Bangladesh series, and the books have totally swept me off my feet. They have kept me engaged and longing for more knowledge about the country and its people which is across the border. While the first two books focus on the Bangladesh Liberation war and footsteps of Islamism in the newly liberated country, The Bones of Grace follows the life of Zubaida Haque aka Zee, who is Maya’s adopted daughter. Both Maya and her husband inform Zubaida on her 9th birthday that she is adopted, but they never knew that this knowledge would be embedded so deep into Zubaida’s heart that she will start spinning her life around it.
In The Bones of Grace, Zubaida is writing a letter to Elijah Strong, the blue-eyed boy whom she met in a darkened concert hall in Boston, day before she was planning to go on a digging expedition to Tethys Sea in Pakistan to find the bones of a walking whale, which she had given the name of “Diana”. Elijah and Zubaida form an instant connection, something that Zubaida has never felt with anyone else. She sets on solving this evolutionary puzzle to settle her mind that is churning a thousand questions about her future after the dig in Dhaka. The dig also gives her solace from the fact she will give back something to the society, just like her parents have been doing, replenishing society after the Bangladesh War.
The dig doesn’t go as planned as a local team member falls into the grip of Balochistan Insurgency. And at the end of the day, they had to leave “Diana” half uncovered and half buried in the sand and go back to their home. As soon as she returns, life takes a full swing. She is married off to Rashid, her long time family friend and boyfriend, settles down eventually only to realize the pain of loss yet again when she suffers a miscarriage.
To find the true self and remove the scars of life, she leaves for Chittagong, the family resort, and from there to a shipping yard, where world’s many ships are taken down piece by piece, to be sold off. In Chittagong, Zubaida comes across Grace, recently arrived to be sold, and she has to cover the life of workers of the ship who will take her down. She also meets Anwar, a shipbreaker whose story holds a key that unlocks the past of Zubaida’s life, and a chance for a new life as well. In the shadow of the ship being torn down to its bones, Zubaida will make some decisions from which she can never turn back.
When I started reading The Bones of Grace, I didn’t know that I have to be very patient with the story. But then after a few pages, I came across this line “Don’t blame me for parsing out the story slowly, Elijah. These things take time.”
And that is when I understood that the story is much bigger than I am thinking. And my, it truly is. When you read The Bones of Grace, you will relate to the confusion and feelings of Zubaida Haque. You will come across a new little world of Chittagong, where ships are stripped down to be sold off. And the feeling by which Chittagong is described, you won’t be able to keep the book down. From Diana to those of ships that land up to be pulled apart in this highly exploitative ecosystem, an amazing relationship of evolution has been shown between a living and a non-living. Though I would have really liked if the story could have been a little fast paced and not so extra descriptive, The Bones of Grace will definitely take a place in your heart. And do not rush with the story, let it work it’s magic on you. Some of you might feel like giving up on The Bones of Grace, but then you will loose out on a story which is magnificent.
Zubaida’s character is someone who has been marred young by the fact of her adoption. Since then, she always looks around for a purpose, or for someone whom she could relate to. She finds her purpose first in the dig of Diana, but then that is taken away from her. She relates herself to Elijah when she comes to back to Dhaka, texting their feelings using song titles. Zubaida may appear confused and disoriented to many readers, but if you carefully decipher her feelings, she is one of those many people trying to find their roots. She is strong, yet she is vulnerable at the core. And she is something that will always be etched in your memory.
I have spent my half June with Tahmima Anam, and I simply love her stories. Make sure to pick up your copies and devour into the roller coaster ride of love, lost and found. Now I am off to sipping my tea, patiently waiting for her next book. 🙂