[Book Review] Of Hawks and Sparrows – a collection by Satabdi Saha

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[Book Review] Of Hawks and Sparrows – a collection by Satabdi Saha

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Wordsmith’s Statutory Disclaimer on Review : Wordsmith Review process is open, simple and  unconventional. Chief Editor reads the book and expresses his  first hand reaction and background thoughts as clearly as possible. This is in stark contrast to the mainstream review which starts with a ponderous solemnity, then a complicated attempt to express the reviewer’s inner microphone and other mechanics and then a English public school headmaster’s ruling.

I have read only the stories. I did not read the poetry section because of a reason. Hence the review remains applicable for the story section only. I hold the fanatic opinion that poetry ( “a state of the soul”) cannot be written in any language other than one’s own native language. The writing can be very high quality, very powerful but it is not poetry in a sense I understand poetry. I refuse to enter into any debate on this with the “argumentative Indian.”

The first thing that came to my mind while I read the first story is to imagine how these stories will read in translation in another language. Since locales are in Bengal, Bengali translation would have made them very intimate and would have  added a layer of delicious complexity, especially for a Bengali reader. This can be considered a project itself by Wordsmith Communication – our bread and butter machine that translates in 250 languages of the world with a team of 3000+ freelancers.

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The author, Ms. Saha is an artist – both with words and also with colour as clear from the cover art of the book.  Her language is also very lucid and shows  very clearly of her long years of engagement with the English language and that of some of her characters. Her treatment on some of the essential themes of existence is very delicate yet clear and powerfully expressive. She is a master of the art of narration.

Her stories explore, structurally something very interesting, at least what seemed to me. It is like this : a quintessential Bengali story, theme, character being narrated to a dear friend who does not understand Bengali. Many of us might have that experience while talking about a Bengali classic story to a friend whose first language may be German. This is very interesting for me.

Of all the stories, the story that left strongest mark on me is The Mansion. (p.27) This is a story of Nilima meeting her old friend and husband after a long time in her old bungalow in semi-rural Bengal. The setting was taking a turn to a ghost story but then the pitch changes. The whole theme now becomes very strange, sinister and the epilogue is very very unusual. The story must be read to have a feel of it. Even in English, the story’s essential Bengali smell and light – of the কালবৈশাথী shines through.

As a reader, I have also found that the author has no rigid stance on feminism. She considers both man and woman as essentially human and with follies and innate goodness.  Because of this quality, the stories will radiate the literary joy when the ideological debates will be over or will be considered inconsequential by the later ages. This is not some imagination. Shelley gave a shrewd advice to all authors in a simple way : most of the social evils and rascal-dom will cease sooner or later – may be after few decades more or less but artistic beauty will not arise automatically. The highest works of Art does not follow the “automatic generation” theory.

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Her stories also mask her scholarship and craft with the language. Simplicity is not being a simpleton.  The greatest master a craft  knows how to hide the hard work that has gone behind to have the effortlessness. Her prose is very intimate within the bounds of English but as soon as it became very very intimate, I regretted again as why am I not reading this in Bengali.

I hope either the author or some translator will translate some of the stories in Bengali, the native language of most of her characters.

Of Hawks and Sparrows by Satabdi Saha

Patridge Publications, 2014,


Source: wordsmithofbengal.wordpress.com


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