Tahmima Anam has become the first Bangladeshi writer to win the Overall First Book Award at The Commonwealth Writers Prize 2008. The winners were announced at the Franschhoek Literary Festival in South Africa on May 18.
The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, an increasingly valued and sought-after award for fiction, is presented annually by the Commonwealth Foundation. The Prize aims to reward the best Commonwealth fiction written in English, by both established and new writers, and to take their work to a global audience.
On recieving the award, and a prize of £5000, Tahmima said:
“I’m honoured and humbled to be the first ever Bangladeshi winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. I wrote A Golden Age because I wanted the story of the Bangladesh war to reach an international audience. It is a story of great tragedy, but also represents a moment of hope and possibility for my sometimes troubled country”.
It was back in 2001, Tahmima began research on the Bangladesh War of Independence and started work on A Golden Age. She travelled throughout Bangladesh, interviewing ex-freedom fighters, military officers, students, and survivors of the 1971 war. The novel is a fictionalised account of these war stories, combined with her own family history.
The Golden Age is a compelling debut novel. It tells the story of Rehana Haque. The novel begins in spring 1971 in East Pakistan, and the country is on the brink of a revolution. Rehana is throwing a party for her children, Sohail and Maya, in the rose-filled garden of the house she has built, while beyond her doorstep the city is buzzing with excitement after recent elections. None of the guests at Rehana’s party can foresee what will happen in the days and months that follow, and her family’s life is about to change forever.
Speaking on behalf of the pan-Commonwealth panel, its Chair, the Hon Justice Nicholas Hasluck praised The Golden Age:
“This is the first major fictional account in English of the creation of Bangladesh. Housewife, widow, and mother, Rehana Haque, exemplifies the power of the individual to resist and ultimately prevail against the ravages of war. The assured and lyrical prose evokes the tumultuous birthing of a new nation in an intensely personal family narrative.”
Tahmima Anam was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and raised in Paris, New York City, and Bangkok. She comes from a family of writers: her grandfather was a famous political satirist, and her father is the editor of Bangladesh’s largest-circulating English daily newspaper. She has a PhD in Social Anthropology from Harvard University, and an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway College, where she studied with UK Poet Laureate Andrew Motion. Tahmima’s writing has been published in Granta magazine, The Guardian, and The New York Times. She is currently a contributing editor at The New Statesman.