I admit I have a basic optimism setting that allows me to find the good in most every piece of art, literature, or music. But The Storm by Arif Anwar is not just good, it is transformative. Is is lyrical, exotic, historical, and heart-wrenching.
Publisher’s Summary: From an immensely talented new voice in international fiction, a sweeping tour de force that seamlessly interweaves five love stories that, together, chronicle sixty years of Bangladeshi history.
Shahryar, a recent PhD graduate and father of nine-year-old Anna, must leave the US when his visa expires. In their last remaining weeks together, we learn Shahryar’s history, in a village on the Bay of Bengal, where a poor fisherman and his wife are preparing to face a storm of historic proportions. That story intersects with those of a Japanese pilot, a British doctor stationed in Burma during World War II, and a privileged couple in Calcutta who leaves everything behind to move to East Pakistan following the Partition of India. Inspired by the 1970 Bhola cyclone, in which half a million-people perished overnight, the structure of this riveting novel mimics the storm itself. Building to a series of revelatory and moving climaxes, it shows the many ways in which families love, betray, honor, and sacrifice for one another.
At once grounded in history and fantastically imaginative, The Storm explores the humanity that connects us beyond the surface differences of race, religion, and nationality. It is an epic novel in the tradition of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, by a singularly gifted and perceptive new writer.
Arif Anwar was born in Chittagong, Bangladesh, just miles from the Bay of Bengal. He has previously worked for BRAC, one of the world’s largest nongovernmental organizations, on issues of poverty alleviation, and for UNICEF Myanmar on public health issues. Arif has a PhD in education from the University of Toronto. He lives in Toronto, Canada, with his wife Si (Sandra) Lian. The Storm is his first novel.
Told in stories that cross time and space, The Storm shines a light on life in Bangladesh in the prelude and aftermath of Partition and the end of British rule in India. Other stories are set in the Bangladesh at the time around the catastrophic cyclone of 1970. The central present day stories focus on Shahryar (Shar) and his daughter Anna who lives with her mother in the US.
The love and sacrifice parents make for their children is a theme throughout each story in The Storm. Shar struggles with having to leave his daughter when his Visa expires. Rahim and Zahara struggle with their inability to have children. In the first chapter, we meet Honufa, as she instructs her son’s caregiver to take her son to shelter before the cyclone hits. Honufa will join them but she must first take the hour trek to untie her goat.
As the author said in an interview with Ryan Patrick for the CBC, “What I’ve recently found wearying is books that only present people of colour as victims of circumstances, and refugees and only in a relational way to the West. This goes for white authors, but writers of colour are also guilty of this, where immigrants are only defined by how they make a new life in North America or Europe, rather than exhibiting these characters in their full complexity of being. And when I was writing this book, I told myself over and over again that I really don’t want to write characters like that, where they are some sort of objects of pity.”
Not only are the characters fully developed with complex motives and relatable virtues and flaws, The Storm also explores the religious and cultural struggles through the lens of love and emotion.
Yes, there is a lot a typical Midwesterner can learn about a wide range of topics in The Storm, but ultimately is a tumultuous story of family and loyalty.
Happy reading, Susan C.
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