I suspect that The Black Coat will be used — again and again — as the gold standard for any book which seeks to engage with South Asian politics or history. — Sunday Guardian
A Quill & Quire Book of the Year
A CBC Best Canadian Debut Novel of the Year
In the aftermath of Bangladesh’s bloody war of independence in 1971, as thousands of migrants from the countryside flood the capital, journalist Khaleque Biswas begins to feel the stirrings of disillusionment. The revolutionary spirit that had filled the air and united the people under the leadership of Sheikh Mujib, the “Father of the Nation”, seems to be dissipating. The government’s response to the crisis is inadequate, and the country’s slow slide into political corruption seems inevitable.
Uncompromising and undiplomatic, Khaleque soon loses his job. Then Nur Hussain turns up: a simple young man from a remote village, his welfare has been entrusted to Khaleque by a passing acquaintance. Unable to turn Nur away, Khaleque sets out to secure him a job, but discovers that the placid fellow has no skills whatsoever, nor much ambition. He seems adept only at impersonating Sheikh Mujib, to whom he bears some resemblance – and as the masses flock to him, the authorities take notice …
A study of the inspiration and limitation of words, the corrupting influence of power, the dangers of charisma, and a call to question accepted versions of events, Imam’s [novel] becomes a compelling tale of absurdist humour reminiscent of Bohumil Hrabal … A notable contribution to a chapter of recent history too often forgotten . — Independent
Excerpts: THE BLACK COAT
Wednesday, 17 March. Hundreds, thousands, of my countrymen are on the road today. They are marching towards the city’s central public square, where the Awami League — Sheikh Mujib’s party — has organized a massive, open-air ceremony on the anniversary of his birth. The Awami League-run government, which has declared Sheikh Mujib ‘Father of the Bengali Nation’, has deployed an extravagant number of security personnel to maintain order. They are guarding local street corners, nearby motorway intersections and strategically important rooftops, and stopping vehicles to look for dangerous items. Hundreds of party workers are assisting them; they carry rods, pipes, batons and bamboo sticks, and apply them regularly to anyone who appears to be unruly or suspicious. Dozens of loudspeakers mounted on electricity poles announce the arrival of national leaders and intellectuals, as well as acclaimed singers and musicians who will perform after the speeches.
As I sit at the stairs of the Shaheed Minar and look at the posters, festoons and banners I think back on a different time. I hear a distinctly trenchant voice: ‘You have betrayed us! You have betrayed us!’ It was thirty-five years ago. He was a part of my soul: a brilliant man, an immaculate heart.
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