The Silent and the Lost is an interesting and educational novel about the war between East and West Pakistan in the 1970s.
The story starts in Brentwood, California, in 1997 at the beautiful wedding of Alex Salim McKensie and Sangeeta Rai, a couple deeply in love. Alex, our hero, was adopted at the age of four in Pakistan by an American couple and brought to the United States in 1972. A war baby haunted by the mystery of his identity, Alex decides to travel to Bangladesh to find out about his roots.
The story moves back and forth in time, first reverting to 1971 to the heart of the revolution that eventually led to the independence of Bangladesh. When we first go back in time, we encounter a newlywed couple, Rafique and Nahar, happily walking the streets full of hope and dreams of freedom.
Their dreams are soon shattered when Pakistani President General Yahya Khan starts Operation Searchlight and West Pakistani soldiers begin their horrific massacre of East Pakistani citizens in an attempt to crush their dreams of independence. But the East Pakistanis don’t give up easily and form guerrilla units to fight the oppressors. To Nahar’s dismay, Rafique leaves her to join the guerrillas to fight for what he believes in. Nahar is torn between what she knows is the right thing to do and her love for her husband.
I’m not a historian but the novel seems very well researched and Zubair gives a lot of attention to detail, not only to historical facts but also to the language, setting and description. He skillfully handles the graphic horrors of war without falling into unnecessary gore. The story combines love, war, peace, philosophy and spirituality. In a way, it reads like an epic and the prose sparkles with clarity and vivid images.
I didn’t know about this war so I found the book eye-opening and instructive. That said, it is a heavy read and the pace drags at times. I think the prose could have profited from a harsher copy editor. There are recurrent redundancies and unnecessary details that slow down the progression of the plot.
In spite of these flaws, however, The Silent and the Lost is a novel worth reading and one that historical fiction fans will find appealing and out of the ordinary. It is also one of those stories that stay with readers long after having read it, if only because it reminds us of the horrific events that have taken place in the past, and ones we all should be aware of.