September 20, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Tahmima Anam's novel The Good Muslim is a powerful exploration of war's legacy on family and faith.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"From historical, political, and social tragedy, Anam has fashioned a mesmerizing story capturing a culture and a time."
The Good Muslim is a novel about the aftermath of war, and how it can tear families apart. The two main characters, Maya and Sohail, are a brother and sister who become revolutionaries during 1971 the Bangladesh war of independence. After the war is over, they go their separate ways, one becoming a crusading doctor, and another a religious fundamentalist. The central question in the book is whether their divergent moral and ideological positions can be reconciled.
Because I wrote a book about a time (the seventies) and events (the Bangladesh war) I didn't witness myself, I needed music that would help me to recreate it on the page. This is a partial list of the soundtrack of my writing, as well as a few songs that made it into the book.
"I Loves You, Porgy" by Nina Simone
I would say this is the number one song I listen to while writing. It featured in my first novel in a big way, but my obsession with it continued into the second. There isn't anything in the meaning of the song that particularly gets me, but the sound of Nina Simone's voice while she renders those plaintive, desperate notes always brings tears to my eyes. So, alone in my apartment in the middle of the day, I cry for Porgy and Bess, and for Maya and Sohail, and all that they have lost.
"Guantanamera," by Joan Baez
When I was four, my parents bought a turntable. We were living in Paris at the time, and the record player replaced the old reel-to-reel my parents had brought with them from Dhaka. Now, along with the scratchy recordings of Bengali songs, our house was filled with western music. Remembering that she had sung at the Concert for Bangladesh, my parents bought a Joan Baez record. To this day, her reedy voice takes me back to that little apartment. "Guantanamera" was always one of my favorites. In The Good Muslim, Maya falls in love with an old revolutionary friend while they are reminiscing about this song.
"Ke Tomar" by Labik Kamal Gourob
Fakir Lalon is a 19th century Bengali folk musician and mystical savant. He was a man way ahead of his time, singing about religious diversity, women's rights, and the life of a wandering free spirit. Modern Bangladeshi folk singers draw heavily from Lalon's repertoire, mixing electronic instruments with the traditional ones that Lalon used. In this particular interpretation, Labik Kamal Gourob uses the dotara, a two-stringed instrument that sounds like a cross between a banjo and a slide guitar.
"Nai Yare" by Lokkhi Terra
This band is a mix of Cuban, afro-beat, and Bengali folk music. They play with an enormous 20 piece band, using traditional Bengali songs and mixing them with latin grooves. The result is intoxicating. This song, featuring the voice of Sohini Alam, is hypnotic, seductive, and deeply melancholic.
"Paraiso di Atlantico," by Cesaria Evora
Sometimes when I am writing I can get distracted by lyrics, so I prefer to listen to music written in a language I don't understand. My friend Michele Ashley, who is a cello maker, first introduced me to Cesaria Evora while I was staying in her studio in Waltham, Massachussetts. I've been hooked ever since.
"A Sunday Kind of Love," by Etta James
I adore this song, because it's about growing up, and companionship that goes beyond the initial thrill of falling in love. There's something sad about this realization, but it's also sort of comforting to know that there is something beyond that first flush, "a love to last/past Saturday night".
"Mario," by Franco
In my last year of graduate school, I shared an office with a political scientist who was writing a dissertation on Ghanaian social movements. He vacated the office mid-semester, leaving behind a disk in the small CD player—The Best of Franco. What a gift! This music always puts me in the most lighthearted, tender of moods. It's classified under "perfect for writing scenes of jubilation"---unfortunately, there aren't that many of those in my novel. But you can be sure that whatever moments of joy I gave my characters, they were written to the sound of Franco.
"It Never Entered My Mind," by Miles Davis
I do not like this song because it features in my favorite movie of all time, Runaway Bride (oops, did I say that out loud?). I love it because it takes a simple 1940's show tune (from the Rogers and Hart musical Higher and Higher), and turns it into something sublime, mysterious, and utterly seductive. I dare you to listen and not be transported.
"I'll Take You There," by The Staple Singers
I bet The Staple Singers probably didn't think much about Bangladesh when they were performing their song in the summer of 1972. But at that moment, the people of Bangladesh, now part of a newly independent country with all the hopes and dreams that that newness suggests, would have found much to cheer about if they heard this song, about the promise of a better future.
"Here Comes the Sun," by Nina Simone
I hope Beatles' fans won't murder me for saying this, but Nina Simone's version is better. It's sweeter, slower, and ultimately more affecting. She starts with just a few quiet notes on the piano, and then the song builds, until you feel, in your bones, that something good is about to happen.
Tahmima Anam and The Good Muslim links:
Asia Society interview with the author
Bookslut interview with the author
Guardian article by the author (on Bangladesh's madrases)
The Leonard Lopate Show interview with the author
Weekend Edition interview with the author
also at Largehearted Boy:
other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists