Translated from the Bengali by V. Ramaswamy
As in most things in life, one’s growth as a reader can be hastened by reading widely, beyond one’s comfort zone. When I picked up “Why There Are No Noyontara Flowers in Agargaon Colony,” I had no idea who Shahidul Zahir was. Neither did I know that he is considered to be the purveyor of magical realism in modern Bengali literature against the backdrop of post-independence Bangladesh. This brilliant author published only six pieces of work in a short, but illustrious life–some of which I’ve enjoyed in this book.
I learnt that Shahidul Zahir’s distinct style of storytelling, use of language, and narrative technique has its own name – Shahidul Zahiriya. While there’s always some loss of nuance in a translation, I will not take away anything from V. Ramaswamy’s excellent work. The translation preserves the quirkiness of the original and superbly communicates the fantastical elements of the author’s storytelling. The stories, especially The Fig-Eating Folk and The Breeze of the Dolu River, are both gruesome and fascinating at the same time.
Somehow, the author elevates absurdity to a fine art. They mystical elements seem like they belong in real life, rather than within the pages of a book. The dream-like sequences sound like they wouldn’t be quite out of place in everyday life.
The author’s prose also comprises unconventional rambling paragraphs with long sentences running off of each other with the aid of punctuation marks. While some sections are overly descriptive, others require the audience to read between the lines. I’m reminded of Mark Haddon’s A Dog in the Nighttime style of pin-straight writing, but Shahidul Zahir’s prose is far richer with nuance and subtext.
How the author’s overly simplistic tale wefts and warps into a story simmering with hidden meaning is a treat to watch. I understand these stories have been chosen for their representative quality for this collection. I can only imagine how delightful the original books have been.
For someone who is not familiar with the cultural and political backdrop of these stories, the author has made a deep impact on me. My favorite story is The Fig-Eating Folk for its effortless merging of fact with fiction, of fantasy with reality.
Why There Are No Noyontara Flowers in Agaragaon Colongy: Stories will remain on my bedside table for some more time to come. I’m not over it yet.
(I received a copy of the book from Blogchatter with a request for an honest review.)
What do you think?