By Tanwi Nandini Islam
I spent a year and a half living in Bangladesh and find myself drawn to books about this part of the world. Bright Lines is about a Bangladeshi family that fled Bangladesh after the Liberation War, and now lives in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.
Anwar and Hashi Saleem have a daughter Charu and also care for their niece Ella, whose parents were murdered in Bangladesh in the 80s. Most of the novel takes place during the sweltering summer of 2003. Anwar works in an apothecary and Hashi runs a beauty salon from the house. But during this hot Brooklyn summer Anwar begins to question his devotion for his wife. Charu, who is about to head off to college, is a budding seamstress and has a sexual awakening. And Ella, who is back from college for the summer, discovers dormant desires for a friend. Towards the end of the book, after a small family crisis, which I will not reveal, the family travels to Bangladesh and their lives are permanently changed.
There is a mystical side to the story. Ella suffers from hallucinations, which are connected to the trauma of losing her parents. And the book harks back to the Bangladesh’s Libration War and how it impacted the family, both at the time and in the present. This is a lovely read with a strong sense of place, both in Brooklyn, and during the visit to Bangladesh. When I read the pages set in Dhaka, I felt like I was right there with them on the streets and in the markets. And this a feminist story with the young women characters figuring out who they are and asserting their places in the world.