The Book of Dhaka, due to be released on the 26th of October, is a lovely little anthology consisting of ten short stories, written by prominent Bangladeshi authors and edited by Pushpita Alam and Arunava Sinha. Comma Press’ latest addition to the City in Short Fiction series aims to conceive a sort of literary map of the city, something that is achieved by weaving wonderful tales of love, learning and growing up in Dhaka. The book begins with a short introduction detailing the significance of the novel, which was surprisingly helpful (I’m not usually a massive fan of introductions as I find they can be tedious). The Book of Dhaka shows us a city full of vitality and hope whilst expertly contrasting this with tones of desperation, portraying a mixture of emotions which emanates from within the city.
Although I found the book interesting enough, I was unsure of the structure of the stories. It frequently read too much like a work of non fiction, which doesn’t exactly get my heart pounding. What I was hoping for was something which would make me feel more fully engaged with the plot and the characters as opposed to what it really felt like — coming across as something that read more like a text book. I understand that these stories are trying to teach us about the morals and culture in Dhaka however, for me anyway, a lot of these plots could have been a lot more engrossing if they had felt a little less educational and a little more magical.
Another thing that didn’t appear engaging was that most of the short stories didn’t seem particularly unique or different to anything else I’d read before. It was quite ‘been there, done that’. Very few of the stories grabbed my attention and had me widening my eyes in shock at some crazy plot twist. Reading back on this review, you may guess that there is a general sense of dislike for The Book of Dhaka, however there were some stories that tickled my funny bone. ‘The Circle’ by Moinul Ahsan Saber brought a smile to my face, with the plot revolving around a woman who is taken on a trip around the city for the first time by her husband on his motorbike. Wildly though, the motorbike seems to have a life of its own as it forces the couple to go round and around the same streets and see the same sights, much to their annoyance. I must confess that this short story is perhaps my favourite within the whole anthology. It stood out to me in a way that the others didn’t, the tone suddenly picking up and becoming faster paced, which made it a lot easier to get stuck into than some of the other stories.
The Book of Dhaka is a collection that at times was hard to get into but also provided some entertaining and stimulating reads, taking us through the vibrant city of Dhaka and allowing us to enter the minds of many of its citizens, from gangsters to slum kids.