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America for Beginners


A poignant debut that explores unlikely friendships forged in unusual ...
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Presentation of Bengals vs. Bangladeshis

Created: 08/01/19

Replies: 13

Posted Aug. 01, 2019 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
AmberH

Join Date: 05/09/18

Posts: 50

Presentation of Bengals vs. Bangladeshis

I really enjoyed this book! After I finished, I read online reviews on Goodreads. There were several from Indian women who were offended by the book's info on Bengals vs. Bangladeshis, etc. I don't know much about the history here - does anyone have any insights into how this issue was presented?


Posted Aug. 03, 2019 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
JLPen77

Join Date: 02/05/16

Posts: 304

RE: Presentation of Bengals vs. Bangladeshis

I appreciate that you raised this question, AmberH. In the novel, the Asian characters expressed (from their different perspectives) the stereotype that Bengalis (being Indian) were, or considered themselves to be, superior to Bangladeshis. Bangladesh used to be part of the Bengal region of India; in 1947 it was partitioned from India along with Pakistan (it was then called East Pakistan) and for the same reason: to separate Islamic people from Hindus, despite a shared history and culture going back to ancient times. Partition was messy, uprooting many people from their homes, sometimes violent, and it cost many people their assets and livelihood. It left a lot of hard feelings on both sides. Bangladesh became independent of Pakistan in 1971 after a strong pro-democracy movement. It has been economically challenged since then, compared to India, though I understand it is developing more rapidly. I’m sure there is a lot more to it than what little I know. I do understand that Bangladeshis are very proud of their (Bengali) language and literary heritage (Tagore, for example). That was a big part of the break with Pakistan (where the official language was Urdu, with a different script). Understanding the strife behind the stereotype—in contrast to the fact that in America, the two groups would appear to be one and the same— I think is important to Franqui’s purpose in the novel: our cherished hierarchies and stereotypes and grudges are meaningless and foolish when viewed from afar, from a larger perspective.

I don’t know what offended the Indian women on Goodreads, but I can imagine that some Americans would feel offended by a fictional American who exhibited racial prejudice, either because they were looking into a mirror, and felt misrepresented, or because they didn’t want people to think all Americans felt that way.


Posted Aug. 03, 2019 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
davinamw

Join Date: 10/15/10

Posts: 2563

RE: Presentation of Bengals vs. Bangladeshis

"...our cherished hierarchies and stereotypes and grudges are meaningless and foolish when viewed from afar, from a larger perspective."

JLPen77 -- I think you've hit the proverbial nail head on!


Posted Aug. 03, 2019 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
reene

Join Date: 02/18/15

Posts: 373

RE: Presentation of Bengals vs. Bangladeshis

May I respectfully suggest that anyone who is interested in comparing these two cultures that they pick up a history book, written by a historian not a fictional novel.


Posted Aug. 04, 2019 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
AmberH

Join Date: 05/09/18

Posts: 50

RE: Presentation of Bengals vs. Bangladeshis

Any suggestions of books you have on the topic are appreciated!


Posted Aug. 04, 2019 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
davinamw

Join Date: 10/15/10

Posts: 2563

RE: Presentation of Bengals vs. Bangladeshis

I don't feel qualified to point you to any nonfiction books on the topic, but you might find these beyond the book articles of interest. The first is on the partition of India, the second on Bengali culture. And from these you'll find jumping off points to explore more:

https://www.bookbrowse.com/mag/btb/index.cfm/book_number/3378/an-unrestored-woman#btb

https://www.bookbrowse.com/mag/btb/index.cfm/book_number/3642/you-bring-the-distant-near#btb

-- Davina, BookBrowse editor


Posted Aug. 04, 2019 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
AmberH

Join Date: 05/09/18

Posts: 50

RE: Presentation of Bengals vs. Bangladeshis

Thank you so much!!


Posted Aug. 04, 2019 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
reene

Join Date: 02/18/15

Posts: 373

RE: Presentation of Bengals vs. Bangladeshis

Thank you


Posted Aug. 04, 2019 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
acstrine

Join Date: 02/06/17

Posts: 277

RE: Presentation of Bengals vs. Bangladeshis

Admittedly, I know very little of the conflict, cultures, and countries of Bengals and Bangladeshis. I saw Slum Dog Millionaire a long time ago, and that was the extent of my Indian experience! This is why I love reading so much. I am introduced to new people and new cultures. I read the same reviews, AmberH, and I found myself doing my own research on line to understand more about something I didn't know. I appreciate JLPen77's summary.

I think well written fiction books can teach us quite a bit about history and present it in a way that allows readers to have a deeper understanding because of meaningful connections they may make with the characters in the book. All the Light We Cannot See, Next Year in Havana, Fruit of the Drunken Tree, and The Red Tent are just a few examples. I would never claim to be an expert or even to be able to hold my own in a conversation after reading a literary fiction book about something I am learning about for the first time, however, which is why I also look for credible non-fiction sources (like BookBrowse's Beyond the Book articles) in addition to others.


Posted Aug. 16, 2019 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
carorobe's Gravatar
carorobe

Join Date: 06/30/19

Posts: 1

RE: Presentation of Bengals vs. Bangladeshis

I was unaware of any of these conflicts, so essentially do not have an informed opinion on the topic. However, these kinds of status or class issues appear in every culture.


Posted Aug. 18, 2019 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
juliaa

Join Date: 12/03/11

Posts: 238

RE: Presentation of Bengals vs. Bangladeshis

I agree that we can find more from history books, but in my opinion the author missed an opportunity to tell us a bit more in the scene at Rebecca's parents' home, when Rebecca's father asked for more explanation, and Pival just responded (if I'm remembering it correctly) "we're both Bengali."


Posted Aug. 18, 2019 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
davinamw

Join Date: 10/15/10

Posts: 2563

RE: Presentation of Bengals vs. Bangladeshis

You are right, that would have been an opportunity to inform the reader but, I suggest, not so good for the story line--where the simplicity of Pival's response spoke volumes.

I read America for Beginners twice - once last year, and once ahead of the discussion. After the first reading I came away thinking that the author had not given much information on the topic; but when I re-read I realized there had been a good amount in the early pages--but that I hadn't read these all that closely first time through because I wasn't yet vested in the characters.


Posted Aug. 21, 2019 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
BuriedInPrint

Join Date: 08/03/19

Posts: 8

RE: Presentation of Bengals vs. Bangladeshis

I saw those concerns expressed by some readers on GoodReads as well. Some of them seemed to be concerned about the portrayal of negative aspects of both setting and characterization. And it's true that some readers might be inclined to think that a single book's depiction of a city or a culture is an accurate reflection of all streets in that city and all people who reside there. But the other side of the argument is that the author isn't accurately depicting a place or a culture if only painting it with a rosy and polished view, that it's disrespectful not to show its flaws alongside its brag-worthy bits, that every place and person is complex, with not just one single attribute/quality.


Posted Aug. 21, 2019 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
BuriedInPrint

Join Date: 08/03/19

Posts: 8

RE: Presentation of Bengals vs. Bangladeshis

Although I do agree with the suggestions above that reading non-fiction can increase one's understanding, I think the decision to read a single historian's book means you are still just reading one person's opinion, which could be just as misleading as reading just a single fictional writer's book. My thought would be to read a variety of books, whether fiction or non-fiction, because even if non-fiction contains more facts, it doesn't necessarily contain more truth.


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