The Liberation War: A reading list
In 1971, the people of the then East Pakistan rose up against their military oppressors, firm on their goal to carve out a separate identity for themselves. A nine month-long war ensued, resulting in the long-awaited birth of Bangladesh, claiming the lives of around three million people. Ever since independence, artists and scholars have been culling stories from the arena of Bangladesh's Liberation War in an attempt to immortalise the nation's blood-tinged history.
Like films, books of fiction and nonfiction have contributed to preserving the memory of the war. Turning to these books will undoubtedly help today's youth make sense of the war and get a glimpse into Bangladesh's origin story.
The Cruel Birth of Bangladesh: Memoirs of an American Diplomat
Written by Archer K Blood, the former American consul to Bangladesh, this memoir sheds light on the time before, during, and after the war from the perspective of an American sympathetic to the cause of Bangladeshi self-determination. Blood reflects on his time spent in Dhaka, giving the readers a vivid snapshot of the capital city in the late 1960s and 1971. He briefly profiles the three leading figures who shaped the war: Yahya Khan, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Blood unflinchingly condemns Washington's silence and support for West Pakistan after the war's eruption. This book is essential reading for those who want to grasp what role the Cold War played in the 1971 war.
The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide
The Blood Telegram is based heavily on the telegrams Archer Blood sent out from Dhaka to Washington during the war condemning Nixon and Kissinger's policies. In this book, Gary J Bass carefully unearths and examines how Nixon and Kissinger, in order to establish an economic entry into China, chose to condone West Pakistani genocidal tactics against the population of East Pakistan. Bass argues and highlights that the American silence was largely attributed to the fact that Pakistan shared friendly ties with China, and the US was keen on building economic relations with the East Asian country. Bass also explores how India's animosity with China and Pakistan, and subsequently the US, led it to supporting the cause of Bangladesh's independence. A journalistic feat, The Blood Telegram sets a stage for readers to witness the ways in which the politics of the Cold War played out in South Asia back then.
Ami Birangona Bolchi
According to estimates, the Pakistani Military and their collaborators sexually abused around 200,000-400,000 women during the Liberation War of Bangladesh. Compiled by Nilima Ibrahim, this is a collection of seven stories told by Birangonas (war heroines), who survived the unspeakable cruelty they had to face at the hands of pro-Pakistan forces. Dr Nilima Ibrahim deserves an ode for her work, not only because of the compilation, but also for the journey that she had to undertake for setting these stories free, beyond the victims' lips. She managed successful adoptions (mostly encouraged by willing Canadian citizens) and triumphantly convinced many Pakistan-bound fleeing Birangonas Pakistan bound to stay back, since leaving would bring more uncertainty into their lives. The book provides its readers with a vantage point on the ways in which a war disproportionately affects women. It brims with stories of both hope and dread.
Letters of Blood
Arunava Sinha's, Letters of Blood—translated from the Bengali Rokter Okkhor—is a novel by the late Rizia Rahman that illuminates the lives of the women who have been (directly and indirectly) forced into prostitution, and shows how the intricacies of their lives hold them captive in a physically and mentally hostile ecosystem. The novel is populated by characters from as young as 12 years old to those on the brink of death—a feat that reflects the reality seen in brothels. One of the novel's protagonists happens to be a Birangona, and following that thread, it establishes a connection between a newly independent country and its harrowing past.
A Golden Age
Tahmima Anam's debut novel, A Golden Age, won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book. It is the first book of her Bangladesh trilogy, which traces the course of Bangladesh's journey from before independence. This novel narrates the story of Rehana Haque and her children, Maya and Sohail Haque, as they grapple with the dizzying forces of political upheaval in East Pakistan. First in the face of custody battles and then an impending war of liberation, we see the intense level of trials and tribulations Rehana must brave to keep her children close to her. We also see how war changes the course of the characters' lives--Maya moves to Kolkata to become a journalist advocating for Bangladeshi self-determination, while Sohail joins the Mukti Bahini. A Golden Age is a vivid snapshot of a country coming alive and the fumes left in its wake.
Besides the aforementioned works, nonfiction books such as Anam Zakaria's 1971: A People's History from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India, Nayanika Mookherjee's The Spectral Wound: Sexual Violence, Public Memories, and the Bangladesh War of 1971, and novels such as Numair Atif Choudhury's Babu Bangladesh!, and Nadeem Zaman's In the Time of the Others are also significant contributions to the literary body devoted to telling the story of 1971.
Kamila Shamsie's Kartography, Intizar Hussain's Basti, and Qurratulain Hyder's Fireflies in the Mist are some popular novels about the war written by renowned non-Bangladeshi writers.
The author is an undergraduate student of International Relations at Bangladesh University of Professionals. firstname.lastname@example.org
The photographer is a staff photojournalist at The Daily Star. email@example.com