A serendipitous meeting, a deep seated love, and a clash of cultures are threaded throughout the backdrop of The Bones of Grace by Tahmima Anam. Zubaida Haque is on a quest to find the bones of the walking whale, a fossil that could provide a missing link in evolution. It is during this quest that she has a chance meeting with Elijah during a concert. Elijah is the typical American of the time, and Zubaida is the adopted daughter of a family in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Yet her life is dictated by her upbringing, and at her families insistence, she marries her childhood best friend and resigns herself to live the typical life of the Bangladesh expectation. Giving up her dream of finding her whale and making a decision to forget about Elijah, she finds herself unhappy and feeling confined. A friend offers her an out, when they find a need for her assistance on a documentary film about the beaches of Chittagong where ships are destroyed and then broken down and the pieces sold to the highest bidder.
The locals work this highly dangerous job as the pay helps them to take care of their families. It is here that Zubaida meets Anwar, a man who seems to know the secrets of her past, and how she came to be adopted. Her life is changing, and she now must make a choice, continue with her marriage, making both herself and her husband unhappy, or move forward to the life she had imagined for herself.
Can she move forward and save what she had with Elijah and will she ever fulfill her dream of finding her fossil and her own background. Taking apart ships is dangerous for those involved, but also a way out of their own misery. It is here that Zubaida finds her inner strength once again, and now she must make her hardest decision, one from which she cannot turn back. Is this what she has been looking for all along?
Anam takes us into a country of beauty and traditions, but also danger and death. She gives us a romance and a hope of renewal in characters that are strong, yet with a depth of feeling. Zubaida is just trying to follow the dictates of her family, which she has never felt part of, but she finds it even more difficult after her chance meeting with Elijah. She follows the dictates of her family because it is what is expected, but Anam also gives Zubaida a core of reserve where she compartmentalizes the hurts and feelings that drive her.
If you enjoy, beauty, romance, and danger, as well as literary fiction this would be a great book for your library. Once started the elements inherent to this type of book will keep you reading. There is a sadness twisting through the story, and yet you find it is just a part of the life of those involved.
This would be a great book for a reading group or book club with a great deal of interest and creative discussion.