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The Storm

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Member Reviews

The language is beautiful and evocative, and I found myself rereading a few passages just for the sheer poetry of them.
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With his recent debut novel, The Storm, Arif Anwar aims for a wide-reaching scope. The narrative stretches from the 1940s to the 2000s and from the South Asian subcontinent to the US. The characters are of British, Japanese, Burmese, Indian, Bangladeshi, and American descent. The main historical events included are the 1942 Japanese occupation of the British colony, Burma (as Myanmar was known then), the 1946 pre-Independence Hindu-Muslim communal violence in Calcutta (as Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, was known till 2001), and the 1970 Bhola cyclone that killed 500,000 in East Bengal (as Bangladesh was first known after the 1947 India-Pakistan partition). This is a vast physical and figurative landscape with much conflict and destruction due to race, religion, and nationality. The aftermath of these seismic events is causing reverberations in the regions even today. (see link for the full review.)
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THE STORM by Arif Anwar is a fascinating book to read for all kinds of reasons. First, it offers an opportunity to explore different regions of the world and different points in time.  Anwar tells three interconnected stories: one is set in 1970's India and what comes to be called Bangladesh; another occurs during the 1940's in the Pacific Theater of WWII, initially near Rangoon in Burma; and the third is set in Washington DC in the early 2000's.

In addition, the structure of Anwar' novel mirrors the bands or concentric circles that form around the eye of a cyclone, (also called hurricane or typhoon depending on its location).  I appreciated the "gathering" section where characters were introduced, including a poor, young wife and mother named Honufa and her fisherman husband Jamir.  There lives are linked to and contrasted with another couple: Zahira and Rahim who are much wealthier and well-connected, but therefore a target at a time filled with unrest and religious strife. During the war years, Anwar shares perspective from Claire, a British army doctor married to a high ranking officer and from Ichiro, an injured Japanese pilot. In the most contemporary period, readers meet Shahryar and Val, former lovers and parents to Anna as he struggles to extend a student visa and remain in the United States close to his daughter. A range of emotions is involved and as with a real storm, there is a sense of foreboding and suspense which also kept me reading.

THE STORM made me question and think about moments in history such as the Indian partition, about religion and beliefs spanning Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist faiths, and about social customs and practices.  Throughout, I was definitely interested in all of the characters and the varied ways in which they exhibited love, honor and sacrifice. This is a great debut which will be popular with book groups – here is a link to the discussion guide from the publisher:  http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/The-Storm/Arif-Anwar/9781501174506/reading_group_guide

Arif Anwar’s THE STORM received starred reviews from Booklist and Library Journal.
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The Storm travels through eighty years of Bangladesh history.  Three interwoven narratives take place during the 1946 partition of India, a cyclone in 1970, and the present day.  Astonishingly, this intricately plotted novel is Arif Anwar's debut.  While the narrative saga drives the plot along at a good clip, the characters drove me to read past my bedtime.  Even the minor characters add atmosphere to this lovely novel (look out especially for the story of a man with an unusual pendant).  I expect this one to be on lots of some long and short award lists this year.
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Shahryar's student visa is about to expire. He has explored every avenue that would enable him to remain in the U.S. for the sake of his young daughter, and as his desperation increases, he receives an offer that would solve all his problems. Between Burma and Washington, DC via Calcutta and Chittagong, the paths of many men and women have intersected over the past 60 years, their love stories and life-altering decisions all leading to him, to this difficult choice.

Behind this tale of a rudderless Bengali man tossed on the sea of his destiny are a stolen letter, two objects bearing mysterious marks, and a ghostly boatman whose appearance announces terrible storms. But in the end, contrary to his namesake from the One Thousand and One Nights, it's Shahryar himself who tells a story — his own.

Although it's a cliché to call "The Storm" a tapestry or a mosaic, this novel is so filled with rich details and emotions that it's entirely justified; its numerous pieces come together, shaped and coloured by what came before, sometimes decades earlier, to form an intricate yet coherent picture. 

An ode to the fragility and persistence of life and to the resonant power of the written word, this novel's melancholy haunts the mind long after the last sentence. The author's sensitive writing has a poetry which, combined with the water imagery that permeates the narrative, make this a beautiful, profoundly moving book. It's as simple and as complex as love itself.
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Inspired by the monstrous cyclone that struck East Pakistan in 1970, Anwar’s debut – a saga of Asia, World War II, Indian Partition and its aftermath – blows a gust of ocean freshness through the predictable ranks of historical epics. Both for its lyrical prose and its intricate structure, the novel offers engagement and intrigue. There’s range here, originality, and a pleasing avoidance of melodramatic predictability.

The story strands are multiple, each packed with character and event. They include the experiences of a Japanese soldier, Ichiro, during the Second World War, first in Burma, later as a prisoner of war in India; the fortunes of rich businessman Rahim Choudhury, whose choices when India divides into Hindu and Muslim nations, set various relationships on different trajectories; and Shahyar, a Pakistani in the twenty-first century, struggling to remain in the United States and to be a father to his mixed-race daughter Anna.

Shah’s story and lineage are the novel’s common thread. His resonant comtemporary problems provide continuity while the author moves back and forth amongst the earlier eras and locations, disclosing the connecting factors between his large cast in controlled, sometimes surprising overlaps. The result is non-linear but always clear.

While this is a story of generations, of fathers and their offspring, and of relationships – some unsuccessful – between sympathetic parties, there’s a streak of spirituality and mystery to the tale too. One of the most memorable of its set pieces spans the two-day furlough taken by Ichiro (a Christian) and a Buddhist friend/fellow soldier who travel into the Burmese hinterland, to find a valley of temples. There, they spend an enlightening night with a monk of European heritage, who also appears in another crucial, separate chapter of the story. The monk’s simple yet profound lesson, and the symbol he sketches on the ground as the three men part, will shape both of the Japanese men’s futures, and the fortunes of others too.

Anwar works hard to avoid cliché, and often succeeds, yet there are inevitable instances of weakness, notably among the British characters – an unpleasant senior officer, a fallible and implausible army wife. Secondary figures are given motivations, if not always a third dimension. However, intelligence and empathy mark this first foray into fiction by Bangladeshi-born, Toronto-based Anwar. His novel is strikingly ambitious, but also persuasive and immersive. He’s one to watch.
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In November 1970, while a cyclone sweeps Bangladesh’s shores, Honufa scurries from her hut in a Chittagong fishing village with her three-year-old son, Shahryar, attempting to reach the safety of the mansion of the zemindar, Rahim. Decades later, Shahryar is in Washington, DC driving his nine-year-old daughter, Anna, to the home of her mother, Valerie. Anna is distraught; Shahryar, having completed his PhD and unable to secure permanent employment, is required to leave the US. Shahryar hires a shady lawyer for advice on various options—some illegal—to remain in the US.

Much earlier, during WWII, the teenaged Honufa helps a Japanese pilot, Ichiro, out of his crashed bomber on a Chittagong beach. Ichiro is treated in a POW hospital by a British doctor, Claire, who has ulterior motives in assisting him. Rahim adopts Shahryar, and he searches anxiously for his birth parents.

Arif Anwar has deftly woven together the lives of ten major and several secondary characters to recount not only their love stories but also the lifestyles of Bangladeshis and their country’s tumultuous history. The story shifts between periods from 1942 to 2004: the WWII years in Burma and Chittagong, India’s Partition in 1947, the 1970 Bhola Cyclone, the 1972 Bangladesh independence, Shahryar’s student life in the US, and even some of the recent problems created by the Rohingya seeking refuge in Bangladesh. Accomplishing such a chronicle in 320 pages, while others might have produced a doorstopper, is remarkable. While the time-switching adds to the intrigue, much use of telling and summary is utilized in the narrative. However, the elegiac quality of the prose is a pleasure to read. Anwar’s PhD level education and work experience with BRAC and UNICEF show in this historically and culturally detailed novel. The open-endedness of some storylines might hint at a sequel. Highly recommended.

This review was first published in the Historical Novel Review Issue 84 (May 2018)
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Extremely good book. The writing and story drew me in. I love a great mystery and this book was full of it
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In this stunning debut novel, Arif Anwar weaves a complex threaded story that weaves mystery, difficult choices, and the fate of history into an epic story of three generations of Bangladeshi history. The book opens with Shahryar, a graduate student earning his Ph.D faces deportation as his visa is soon to expire leaving his daughter and ex-wife behind. He begins to ruminate on his childhood on the shores of the Bay of Bengal and begins to weave his woven fate with a historical storm and flood. This novel moves and shifts along historical moments and connections with the past and the future where honor, sacrifice, and betrayal fight history as it rushes forward. The stories include a British field physician, a Japanese pilot, and an upper-class couple caught in the midst of the Partition of India. All these characters make decisions based on making the life better for the next generation, the survivors, the future. It is a humbling vision of our personal histories - past, present, and future. 


The threaded design of the novel makes for an intricate and intense reading experience. Anwar's narrative is focused and crafted to span across time and still hold tension and vision across more than sixty years. An amazing debut novel that tells a history that resonates with us all. This novel compares to The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and The Age of Shiva by Manil Suri, a personal favorite of mine. The Storm is a powerful international title that shines among the 2018 spring titles.
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