Author: Khawaja Azimuddin
Title: The Boy Refugee: A Memoir from a Long-Forgotten War
Genre: Memoir / History
This personal and detailed account of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 effectively balances memoir and remembered history with details the author gathered from speaking with others who experienced the same events from a different perspective.
The author shows his own perceptions as a child growing up in East Pakistan, reflecting on his limited awareness of the racial and economic differences between him and the Bengali people around his family at that time. He notes that others will likely remember or have experienced things differently, but that this is his story, what he saw and went through, and yet he manages to offer a balanced reflection, showing the errors on both sides even while noting the patriotism his family felt and believed at the time.
The horrors of the war are noted, though not dwelt on, as he and his family managed to escape East Pakistan and receive the protection of the Indian Army after the war. Thus, much of the story is about his experiences as a civilian prisoner of war and refugee following the short war.
The book is nicely laid out, with chapter headings making it clear what aspect of the author’s experience occurs in each, and a detailed glossary appears at the end, helping readers know what the various terms sprinkled throughout the text mean. The tone is serious yet hopeful, showing the author’s appreciation for his family’s position during those difficult times while poignantly noting the more difficult situations of others all around him.
The narration nicely introduces the war and conflict to readers that might be relatively unfamiliar with the politics and region, offering maps and photographs of what was happening along with personal images of him and his family. This helps ground the story in what was transpiring and where, though the maps would be helped by showing greater focus at times.
Currently, it can be hard for those unfamiliar with India to pinpoint exactly where his family was living and which boundaries are those of the nations and which are more regional divisions on some of the maps provided. Similarly, the book could use further editorial polish, as commas frequently appeared in the middle of sentences where they interrupted the flow, and academic readers might appreciate more detailed notes as to which parts of the narration are from his own experience and which he gathered from speaking with others.
Delightfully clear, factual, and effective, this account brings the author’s experience and the aftermath of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 to light while offering a sobering reflection on the plight of refugees worldwide. The book provides a treasure of information for those looking to learn more about ordinary people’s experiences during this time, and thanks to the author’s diligence in speaking to others who shared his experience, the book comes off as beautifully balanced, factually well-informed, and appropriate for both the casual historian or a more academic reader. Anyone interested in understanding more about the history of Bangladesh and those who lost their country in the process of granting a nation independence will enjoy this book.
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