Journal of South Asia Women Studies

New Titles

We Tried: Government Service in India and Nepal

By Nancy Dammann

Sun City (Arizona): Social Change Press, 1995

Pp. II + 196, US$ 9,95

Review by Enrica Garzilli, May 15, 1996

This is an account of a young woman's work with the American Department of State's Information Service (USIS) in Madras, India, and in Kathmandu, Nepal, during the early fifties. In Madras, the small USIS staff operated a library, selected scholars for US study grants, and wrote and distributed press relases. The author was responsible for publicizing the Wheat Loan Act and spent much of her time visiting famine-stricken villages.

In early 1952 the author was transferred to Kathmandu to head the small American library. Due to the policy of the governing Rana family, Nepal had been sealed from outside the world: no tourists were allowed, no roads were built, no schools were established, there were no films and no radios, and there were only 50 cars in the all country. No US Embassy was there.

With a staff of five Nepalese, Dammann ran a small American library. She also wrote political and economic reports for the US Department of State.

We Tried concerns the author's first overseas tour. After that, she served in Indonesia, Thailand, Jamaica and the Philippines. She first went overseas with the Women's Army Corps (WAC) during World War II. Then after earning a M.S. Journalism, she joined the Department of State as an information assistant and served in India and Nepal. This book is about that tour, which the author defines as "her most exotic experience". In the Preface Dammann writes:

I was lucky, I grew up in the beginning of an era when single women, could live glamorous lives....After World War II more and more women attended medical schools, became lawyers, worked on newspapers or joined the foreign service. Although we never married, we led interesting lives. I for one had more than my share of adventures... This isn't meant to be a feminist book, but because I am a woman it has a feminist slant... Many of us were World War II veterans. We wanted no more wars. Perhaps naively, we felt that by restraining Communism and improving the lot of the poverty- stricken Third World we could prevent another holocaust. We tried.

The book has 22 chapters and an Index, even though it does not give the "Bibliography" listed in the page of "Contents". Several black and white pictures of the time have been inserted. Much of the book concerns the people with whom the author had contact: poor people met at her field trip trough famine areas, diplomats, the staff who worked with her, etc.

Dammann's book is not only a vivid account of her most exotic adventure, and of the early fifties US propaganda program in India and Nepal; it is a witness account of the ideals of an epoch, a piece of history lived and seen by an educated woman who believed in education and world reform.

The Game in Reverse. Poems

By Taslima Nasrin (transl. by Carolyne Wright)

New York: George Braziller, 1995

Pp. XVI + 63, US$. 11,95

Review by Enrica Garzilli, May 15, 1996

The book offers the translation from Bengali of fourty-two poems of the 1994 "Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought" Taslima Nasrin.

Carolyne Wright translated them into English. Nasrin herself, Farida Sarkar, Mohammad Nurul Huda, and Subharanjan Dasgupta helped Wright to translate twenty-nine of them. Ten poems are from I Couldn't Care Less, 1988 and 1990; eleven poems from Banished Without and Within, 1989 and 1990; ten poems from Captive in the Abyss, 1991; eleven poems from Behula Floated the Raft Alone, 1993 and Pain Come Pouring Down, I'll Measure Out My Life for You, 1994.

The book provides a Preface written by Carolyne Wright, with information about Nasrin's political and intellectual acitivity; a Translator's Note on her criteria of selecting and traslating these poems; a very useful Note at the end of the book where she explains the numerous Nasrin's allusions and notations to Bangladeshi's social and cultural life (names of food, auspicious colors, derogatory expressions, the riots that broke out in Bangladesh in December 1992, the reinterpretation of one of the stories found in a supplement of the Koran, etc.). The last chapters of the book are Notes on the original Bengali book titles and on the translators.

The Game in Reverse is the first poetry volume of Bangladeshi feminist doctor-turned-writer Taslima Nasrin to appear in English translation. Nasrin gained widespread recognition when her best-selling novel *Shame*, was banned by the Bangladeshi government on the grounds that its "inflamatory" tone had provoked tensions between Muslims and Hindus. Since 1994 she has been in hiding following death threat from Islamic fundamentalist groups for her "conspiracy against Islam".

In these collected poems Nasrin, with a fresh and powerful language, denounces the indignities women have had to endure in Bangladeshi Muslim society and touches on such subjects as domestic violence, sexual and employment discrimination, sexual abuse, marriage "merchandise", fundamentalist Islamic violence against women (e.g. Happy Marriage, Character, The Wheel, Pleasure with a Woman, Noorjahan). Nasrin also touches on personal themes and feelings (e.g. Divided, Self Portrait, The Fault of Loneliness).

It is worthwhile to notice that Huda, Dasgupta, Sarkar are Bengali speakers and poet themselves. Huda is regarded as as one of Bangladesh's leading poets. Wright's translations from Bengali have appeared in many journals; she has also published four volumes of her own poems and a volume of essays, and she has edited two Bengali anthologies. She has won several awards for her poetry and translations, including the Academy of American Poets Prize, the Pablo Neruda Prize, the PEN/Jerard Fund Award, and an Award for Outstanding Translation from the American Literary Translators' Association. Carolyne Wright explains in her "Translator's Note":

In this collection, I have tried to provide a generous representative selection of Taslima Nasrin's poetry from this first decade of her book publishing career... In these translations, I have endeavored to let Taslima Nasrin speak for herself, without interpretations, glosses, or undue embellishment. Notes occur... Such information will, I hope, help English-language readers appreciate the rich, vibrant, and sometimes turbolent cultural milieu out of which these poems emerge and to gain an understanding of the conflicts and concerns that have catapulted Nasrin to global prominence.

These poems are nourished by social issues, and can be given as an example of the lucidity, incisivness, and stylistic freshness of a very special woman writer. The book itself is an example of collaboration among poets in an era where poetry and human rights are equally forgotten.