Reviewed by Anita Sethi in The Independent:
“The rasping feeling of loss” percolates the pages of this powerful debut novel. Tahmima Anam traces a “country splitting”, in the 1971 Bangladesh war of independence, through the breaking heart of a widow. Rehana Haque loses custody of her two children, Maya and Sohail, to the care of her brother-in-law in Karachi on the grounds of “her grief, her poverty, her youth”. As she struggles for the hearts of her children, so a nation struggles to be custodian of its own fate.
When war breaks out, rumour has it that all the animals in Mirpur Zoo die of fright. But Anam’s concern is with human beings finding ways to live in the landscape of war in spite of the “cold fear” at their backs, as “twisted politics” intrudes upon the intimately personal at every turn.
The insidious power of the novel is in a sense of foreboding imbued in both human beings and inanimate objects, which endows the storytelling with a rhythmic, assured force – the chronicle of deaths foretold. Huts tilt towards the water, “as though aware of their fate”; for every monsoon, the rivers steal vast chunks of the land, and yet every year “hopeful little shacks” are rebuilt.