Bones of Grace – Tahmima Anam (Bradford Literature Festival pt1)

Waterstones (Bradford)

Waterstones, The Wool Exchange, Hustlergate, Bradford, West Yorkshire, 2014 • I assumed this was an ex-church, but in fact it’s Bradford’s old wool exchange. Now that bookshops are going the way of wool exchanges, it’s nice to see such a grand one hanging on…

Bradford is known for many things. Some are more along the lines of ‘things you’d rather people didn’t associate with your home town’ – stuff like the Bradford City stadium fire, the odd riot, George Galloway – but others are definitely things to be proud of. We’ve been crowned Curry Capital of Britain for a record-breaking five consecutive years (in your face Birmingham!), Bradford City’s memorable 2015 FA Cup run (in your face Chelsea!) and our hole in the ground is now a shiny new shopping centre which is big enough to start attracting a whole new group of people to the city but small enough not to be the only part of town they visit. All in all I’m proud to be from Bradford, and I’m particularly proud to work in one of its finest buildings. And the icing on the cake (sold in our Cafe W, made locally, just saying…) in May is the Bradford Literature Festival.

The Festival began with a weekend event in 2014 and has swiftly developed into a 10 day extravaganza featuring literature, drama, comedy, theatre, art, dance and political and philosophical thought from around the world. There are authors writing for children, famous names from Bradford itself, people you’ve seen on the telly and writers from around the world. My only problems are going to be how to get to all the events I’m interested in and the fact that, obviously, I’ll have to work for the period of the festival. Oh well, there is still a week or two to invent my cloning machine…In the meantime I have been reading up on some of the featured authors. Well, it’s only polite surely!

9200000050485693My first festival read is by Tahmima Anam, who will be part of a panel discussing foundlings, orphans and adopted children in literature, so it should come as no surprise that her novel Bones of Grace features a central character who is searching for both her birth mother and her identity. Zubaida is a Bangladeshi paleontologist studying an extinct species of whale in an area ruled by religion and warlords,  falling in love with an American and struggling to please her family. This includes both her adoptive parents and her husband’s family; oddly she seems to have no problems with the relatives of Elijah, the American, although they are no less complicated than the South Asian contingent. She doesn’t seem to be a traditional and submissive woman which is unsurprising as the parents who raised her were both heavily involved in the fight for Bangladesh’s independence but she does end up marrying the childhood sweetheart her family would have chosen for her anyway. The story takes us to the ship-breaking yards of Bangladesh and into the world of those who live, and die, there.

This is a beautifully written book and a heartbreakingly sad story. It is the tale of a love story and of a young woman’s search for who she really is. It feels quite literary but was a compelling read – it never felt ‘worthy’ or hard work. I was, in turns, charmed by descriptive passages, fascinated by the thought of the evolutionary development of prehistoric whales and angered by the lives of the poor in Bangladesh. I hope I am able to hear Tahmima speak at Bradford Literature Festival as she seems to have plenty to say and says it beautifully.




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