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‘History doesn't end’

  • Published at 04:09 pm November 9th, 2018
the storm

Anwar revealed his ideas behind writing the book and how writers of colour face issues while attempting to publish their first book in North America or Europe

The Bangla Academy premises were packed with visitors at the advent of winter, successfully making up the second day of DLF 2018. The local audience was delighted to see Bangladeshi-born Canadian writer Arif Anwar back in his home country and to talk about his debut novel,The Storm, with literary editor Rifat Munim, who moderated the session.

Throughout the session, Anwar revealed his ideas behind writing the book and how writers of colour face issues while attempting to publish their first book in North America or Europe, and how historical events have become the catalyst in the lives of his characters.

Connecting people from many countries through historical epochs in the twentieth century such as World War II and the 1970 Bhola cyclone, as well as exploring the post 9/11 experience in the US—Anwar’s book has received rave reviews since its publication. But how did the idea of such a complex novel occur to him? Munim asked.

For Anwar, it turned out that the idea of writing his debut novel, overwhelmed by the immensity of history, came as ordinarily as doing a routine exercise like jogging in the morning. “I saw little parts of the same universe [while jogging]...It was like seeing volcanic mountains rising out of the sea, but if you delve deeper you see it’s all connected and part of a great continent,” said Anwar. But the idea of writing a novel seems to have come from pure ambition as he put humorously, “I decided if I’m going to hunt something, it’s going to be a rhinoceros.” So years later, Anwar would finish his second draft of the novel, placing Bangladesh in the forefront.

However, it was really challenging for him—being a writer of colour—to get published in North America. Rejections were piled on his desk and one of thepublishers even sent him an odd reply–saying that since they had already selected a novel that has Bangladeshi characters, they would not like to publish another one in the same fiscal year.

At one point, Munim asked how challenging it was for Anwar to interlace the historical watersheds of the subcontinent into the structure of the novel.

In reply, Anwar said that it was a “deliberate choice” to not succumb to the tyranny of the present. “Why should present take precedence over history? I think history doesn't end. History continues and we are still affected by history.”