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Book Review: Revenge by Taslima Nasrin

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In Revenge, prior to her marriage to Haroon, beautiful Jhmur had been attending a university in Bangladesh. It was on campus there that she first met Haroon and within weeks, the two were falling in love. During their short courtship, Jhmur and Haroon led exciting lives together. Jhmur explains how they went to restaurants, shows, and danced together. Haroon particularly liked Jhmur’s sense of humor.

But after their marriage, Jhmur crosses the threshold into her husband’s home and finds herself enslaved. Now, she must give no thought to any study or professional work. Instead, she not only waits on Haroon’s every whim, but it is expected that she must also satisfy the needs of her husband’s family.

Haroon has several brothers and sisters, not to mention a difficult, demanding, distressing mother-in-law, who harasses Jhmur into following time-honored, time-consuming, demeaning traditions. Jhmur must keep her eyes downcast rather than look at any family members. She must keep her head covered and is no longer permitted in public without a proper escort.

Most distressing to Jhmur is Haroon’s dramatic temperament change. Now, he has little time for her other than as a female body to satisfy his not-so-frequent sexual urges. When not making tea, preparing meals, or cleaning, Jhmur spends much of her time in the loneliness of her room. In addition to her marital entrapment, Jhmur is pregnant. She tells Haroon.

To her anguished shock, Haroon rebuffs her severely. He will not believe his seed impregnated her. Because so little time has passed since their wedding nuptials, Haroon wrongly reasons that Jhmur was already pregnant before their marriage. He becomes obsessed with his wife’s alleged unfaithfulness, even though she swears her womb carries his child. What dejects Haroon most is what neighbors and coworkers will think of him and his family once Jhmur’s secret “unfaithfulness” leaks out. The thought crazes him.

As a result of his pigheaded, pigeonholed thinking, Haroon insists that Jhmur have an abortion. Although she cannot fathom Haroon’s sick reasoning, following  tradition, she must obey her husband — there is no choice after marriage. Again and again Jhmur tries to convince irrational Haroon that she is carrying his child.

The abortion sickens Jhmur. Her husband has killed what would have been her first-born but she must continue her distressed marriage. Dullness resumes. But peeking out her window, she sees a handsome prince-of-a-man working in the garden next to Haroon’s home.

Jhmur secretly gazes at him. She swoons over his muscular, shirtless torso that glistens with sweat in the sunlight. She pictures him naked lying next to her as they tenderly consume one another again and again. She imagines what it would be like to escape with this gentle hunk away from the drudgery of her daily life. In due time and with unequaled secrecy, Jhmur and this gardener meet.

They begin to have sexual interludes whenever possible but always — always in supreme secret. In turn, she refuses sex with Haroon complaining of headaches, body aches and pains. Eventually, she just says, “No!” without giving a reason. Haroon is permitted intercourse only when Jhmur is having her period. Soon, she finds herself pregnant with the attractive gardener’s child.

Thrilled to death because she is pregnant again, Jhmur faces a real dilemma. How can she explain her pregnancy to Haroon? Can she deceive him into thinking the child in her womb is his?

The fascinating end to this story I will leave to the reader who, like me, may find it a bit unusual. It is a well-told tale of marital love and deceit. As Jhmur narrates Revenge, you will experience her mental and physical frustration from page one where she describes the drudgery of life in Haroon’s home instead of a fulfilling career as a qualified school teacher. You will share her mental trauma when she cannot convince jealous and unreasonable Haroon that her first child is his. You will be with her during her disturbing abortion.

If you want to read a short, cleverly narrated tale of love and hate, loneliness and happiness, trust and betrayal, Revenge is that tale. Author Taslima Nasrin paints her characters with genuine feeling. They become real, especially Jhmur, who ends her loneliness by secrete interludes with a potent, but trustful lover. Revenge is a powerful urge in all of us to get even. Author Nasrin permits Jhmur to work out her despicable get-even feelings toward her husband in a revengeful way that satisfies her for a lifetime.

To truly enjoy this book, I found it necessary after the first chapter to write down the names of the many different characters Taslima Nasrin introduces. Because names are somewhat foreign, my cheat sheet helped me remember who was who: brothers, sisters, relatives, in-laws, etc. This may not be necessary if, unlike me, you have a great memory.

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