Published in Life Today/ The news Today Magazine, Dhaka B.desh July 2006
Book Review: A List of Offences
Dr.Anna Karin Herbert
Writers from Asian countries often dominate the top ten lists all over the western world, works such as ,Mistress of Spices, Suitable Boy and Brick Lane, to name a few. There is currently a great interest in books and films which deal with the difficulties of those who attempt to move across boundaries, physical as well as cultural. Dilruba Z. Ara’s A List of Offences is no exception. A critic recently likened Ara’s book to The God of Small Things, and he is correct in terms of the interest the book has generated long before reaching the bookstalls of Dhaka. The novel has been sold to Spain, Latin America and Greece and agents are working to promote it in 71 countries, but the similarities end here.
Most of the books mentioned above relate to the cultural clash where East meets West. Although the main character of A List of Offences never leaves her country, the clash of rural Bengal with city Bengal – or East with West is unmistakeable. The protagonist, a young girl from a river village meets and falls in love with an Anglophile lawyer from the big city, and migrates to the city where she goes through a process of disillusionment – similar to the one many immigrants go through when they find themselves in foreign countries.
A List of Offences is a saga about three generations of women. As a young woman, Daria frees herself from the expectations and demands of her past and looks to forge her own future. The story brings up issues of religion, ethnic origin, familial and dynastic relations, love’s rise, demise and perturbations. Ara does this through a rich tapestry of narratives and an almost Dickensian, cast of characters. The rhythmic flow of language is borne of Bengali poetry, the Great Classics and a thorough grounding in Eastern and Western literature and art. The literary style is taut and economical when necessary, yet deeply expressive and graceful. Through the story the river winds slowly, bringing the readers towards the culmination and end. The river gives and the river takes, shaping the soul of Daria through its movement.
The book will appeal to men and women alike. Every reader who has loved the lyrical prose of Roy and Okri, who has been carried away by the rich texture of Marquez and story telling of Sholokhov will love Dilruba Ara’s writing. A List of Offences is a world-class book, by turn, evocative, chilling, informative, humorous, inspiring and brave. The story also has a political dimension relating to women in Bangladesh. While Ara’s father Shahed Ali, an eminent author and literary host, wrote of the poor in Bengal, Ara writes about women. Hers is a subtle message of liberation, which will ring true even in those parts of the world that have already achieved the right of expression. The main protagonist evolves from a shy young woman – dominated by her husband and his family – into a strong woman, who is prepared to make painful and difficult changes defying social norms and expectations.
In addition to its political aspect, this book will, for many years, be remembered for its brilliant portrayal of the everyday life in rural Bangladesh; the traditions, the festivities, the food, the flooding, the lush beauty of a riverside village. The story develops during the time when Bangladesh belonged to Pakistan up until the liberation war that broke out in the beginning of seventies. Bangladesh has produced a great writer and a magical masterpiece of a book, which will come to be considered as one of the few classical novels born from the Indian subcontinent.
Dilruba Z. Ara has currently been recognised for the translation of her father’s short stories into English – Selected Short Stories of Shahed Ali – a collection which was released same day as her novel A List Of Offences was released. At present, she is preparing a volume of her own short stories, several of which have already been published. Detached Belonging, her very first story in English, published last year, has already been chosen as a part of English Literature Course in Cultural University- College/ Stockholm – Sweden and in Creative Writing Course at Kennesaw State University /USA.
Dilruba Z. Ara contributes monthly with her stories to Vista, a magazine published in Lahore, Pakistan. Among her other achievements as a writer, she has been honoured as the Chief Guest in the Literary Salon- International Post-Colonial Conference, held in Stockholm between 27-30 April, 06 to read from A List of Offences.
Dilruba Z. Ara is also a poet and a painter.
Dr. Anna Herbert, (Phd in Psychoanalysis, Oxbridge, Brunel. UK)
Currently working as a lecturer, University of Lund and
In University of Kalmar. Department of Education and Pedagogy.