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Book Review: “The Silent and the Lost” by Abu Zubair

Alex Salim McKensie, a war baby of the 1971 Bangladesh War of Independence, is adopted by the McKensies, an American family that has lost their only son in Vietnam. Years later, Alex falls in love with Sangeeta Rai, but their happiness is threatened when the enigma of his birth casts a dark shadow over their relationship. The Silent and the Lost opens with the wedding of Alex and Sangeeta in Brentwood, California on a sunny Saturday in 1997, then travels back into the boiling cauldron of political clashes of East Pakistan in early 1971. Through the eyes of newlywed Nahar Sultana, her husband, student activist Rafique Chowdhury, and their friends we are immersed into the nine months of revolution that created Bangladesh. On March 25, 1971, Nahar, Rafique, Nazmul and the Rahmans find themselves in the center of Operation Searchlight at Dacca University. Miraculously surviving, they escape to Sheetalpur village. Longing for vengeance and freedom, Nazmul and Rafique leave for the Mukthi Bahini guerrilla camps in Agartala, India. In a twist of fate, in a brutal family betrayal, Nahar is captured by the Pakistani Army. Destitute and in utter despair, tortured and mad, Nahar grips desperately to her last scintilla of hope-Rafique’s return. Two generations spread across two continents, thousands of miles apart, are brought jarringly together when Alex begins his search for answers to his beginnings. He discovers that his own struggle for happiness is inextricable from the history that he finds himself part of: the genocide that in 1971 ultimately created out of East Pakistan the new nation of Bangladesh. Set in a pivotal point of time, The Silent and the Lost powerfully chronicles the history of a revolutionary change in the socio-political landscape of the sub-continent, and takes us on a sinuous journey into a passionate and breathtaking untold account of heroism and betrayal, family and friendship, love and anguish-of the lives of the characters and millions of others swept up in the unfolding unrest, mayhem and suppressed genocide.  (from Barnes and Noble)

Padma Phool - Water Lilies - Bangladesh

When I think of a descriptive word that best describes “The Silent and the Lost” by Abu Zubair, the only word that applies is “beauty”.  Beauty in the pages and hardcover binding; beauty in the picture and artwork of the front cover; beauty in Abu Zubair’s words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters; beauty in the relationships described; beauty in the flow of this incredible novel.  Once opened, I did not want to let go.  When I read the last word – I wanted more.  And the unusual, undeniable juxtaposition is that the root topic is one of deep unrest, family betrayal, and world struggle and war. Genocide.  True life facts of history wound up in a story bound to reach the heart of readers, in a way that will change the reader forever. 

Before reading Abu Zubair’s novel, my own knowledge of what happened between West Pakistan – East Pakistan – Bangladesh – was sadly lacking, even though my friend circle includes individuals whose own heritage springs from these conflicts.  That humbles me, and at the same time, makes me a little embarrassed – now having read “The Silent and the Lost”.  How could I have been so unaware of something that happened in my lifetime, happened as my high school years were ending, and university loomed on the horizon?  I shake my head in wonder that, at no time since high school or university, did I learn of the tragic events and sacrificed lives that took place in 1971. 

Abu Zubair does not leave much out of his descriptions of war and its tragedies, but nor were his descriptions anywhere near gore or horror.  Yes, there was gore in the actual historical events – there was horror in the actual events – but as with any skilled craftsman, Abu Zubair acknowledges and speaks to the gore and horror of these real life events, but he does not glorify the gore and the horror.  Which I must say, I keenly appreciated.  It allows for the storyline to remain front and centre. 

The novel takes place in two time spans: one in 1997 and one in 1971.  Each era has its own cast of characters, and there is no challenging maze of events to follow.  The reader will easily recognize when the chapter is to be about the events of 1997, and when it will be about the events of 1971.  Also, the author’s calendar dates are shown for each section of the book – very helpful. 

As I write the year ‘1971’, I am still trying to wrap my head around ‘such events’ happening in ‘this day and age’; and I am also sadly aware that tragic events like this continue to plague our world.  And those of us living in North America have so much to be grateful for, with respect to political and religious freedom.  Yes, troubles exist in our world but are nowhere near the magnitude of such battles, as the battle for Pakistan. 

There are also scenes and chapters of “The Silent and the Lost” that are filled with such love, beauty, and grace – my eyes brimmed over with tears as I transitioned from one generation to another, one chapter to another, and at times even one sentence to another.  But not all dreary and sad, this novel includes some very happy and joyful happenings in the lives of the characters.  Moments that brought smiles, not tears, to my heart. 

I was attracted to the subtle experiences of spirituality expressed or implied by the author about the characters.  Admittedly, spirituality is a grace I subconsciously (or consciously) look for no matter which book sits before me.  Nevertheless, I believe it was a real element of the story line – spirituality and the lack of spirituality. 

Although not necessarily meant in any other way than to comment on Muslim and Hindu differences, I was affected quite deeply by the following short paragraph – affected on a spiritual level, as well as on a moral level.  Based on how we need to work toward true peace, in this frequently “peace-less” world. 

                    “Remember, the enemy has penetrated our ranks and will try     to create division among us, and through looting create derisions in our ranks.  Hindus or Muslims, Bengalis or non-Bengalis, all are our brothers.    It is our duty to ensure everyone’s safety.”  (page 52) 

“The Silent and the Lost” reached me on many levels – intellectually, psychologically, spiritually, and not the least of which, emotionally.  This is a book I will treasure and re-read again and again. Because the topics which are covered in the books I read and review are so very different, I do not use a numbered rating system.  Even if I stated that the ratings held only “in the genre the book was written for”, as humans we love to compare and number comparisons between works of fiction and of non-fiction would be inevitable.  So, I steer clear of a number scale.  However, if I was to rate “The Silent and the Lost” on a number scale – it would rate the highest number possible.  When I received this complimentary book from the author, and it arrived clearly packaged with care, I knew I was holding something very special.  I am happy to be able to freely supply my review, and know this book truly is something special.

I highly recommend “The Silent and the Lost” by Abu Zubair be added to everyone’s to-be-read list, and I would be interested to hear everyone’s reaction to, and thoughts of, this book.  I certainly welcome comments be added to this post. 

Read and bring this book into YOUR life.

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