During the hours of daylight, young Shurjomukhi's family is like any other in Dhaka, going through the motions of school, work, and domesticity in a nation still in the flush of youth. But every night, once darkness falls over their asymmetrical house, they switch over to the Unknown world. Death does not exist in the Unknown side and the family is joined for dinner by Shurjo's freedom fighter uncles, who were martyred in the tea gardens of Sylhet at the start of the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war, and her grandmother who killed herself by jumping into a well in the aftermath of 1947. These dinners are festive affairs, replete with the joy of reunion, music and stories, but underneath the celebration, Shurjo's family is riddled with the traumas of their past: death, war, migration, separation, the inability to belong to a land, dwelling in an in-between space, an eternal limbo. And when the miasmic shadow of the past inevitably falls on young Shurjo, the pitfalls of their dual reality is laid bare. The only way forward is an upheaval that splits the family apart, flinging Shurjo and her parents to the other end of the world.
Imaginative and compelling, Shurjo's Clan merges magical realism with a vivid historicity to paint an entirely contemporary portrait of how grief is inherited, how the traumas and memories of our ancestors continue to shape those who come long after.
Spanning decades, from the forced migration of Bengalis to East Pakistan in 1947, through the 1971 liberation war, the wave of immigrants to the West in the 1980s, and a final return, Iffat Nawaz's lyrical and evocative prose marks the arrival of a distinctive voice, one that unravels questions of grief, belonging, identity, and family with delightful imaginativeness and devastating insight. With its mesmerising balance between inexplicable otherworldliness and undeniable reality, this debut novel asks, above all, how we can honour the past without letting its wounds destroy us.