Godzilla and the Song Bird
Set in the period before and after the Bangladeshi war of independence, this immersive and powerful story has at its heart the continuing friendship between three boys with a love of cinema. As a vision of the world, it has a rich mix of its darkness and light, and is utterly contemporary and Bangla in image and voice.
Manzu Islam
ISBN number
Fiction, Novel
Country setting
Publication date
11 Jul 2024
This is a novel that has everything: tenderness, humour, sadness, satire, horror, tension and release. Scene after scene of brilliant storytelling drives the narrative, revealing truths about the difficult emergence of a postcolonial society and reflecting on the nature of storytelling as a characteristic of Bengali culture – a double-edged one because stories can both evade and uncover buried secrets. It is Dickensian in the richness of its characterisation of strikingly realised individuals who are yet emblematic of the tensions and choices within their world. It takes on the big themes of the instability of geography – Bulbul is born in pre-partition India, his grandparents flee to East Pakistan and he and his grandmother, Dadu, live through its painful passage to Bangladesh. In wry and chilling ways, it explores the fixity and fluidity of identity – how an outcaste Hindu shoemaker becomes a Muslim holy man – but also how true believers are ready to slit the throats of infidels and ethnic stereotypes drive others to slaughter those they see as enemies of the state. At its heart Godzilla and the Songbird offers the deeply perceptive if sometimes naïve character of Bulbul, the novel’s orphaned narrator, and his passage through a series of relationships: with his heroic grandmother, Dadu, and outcaste Hindu, Kona Das whom Dadu takes in when she rescues Bulbul from drowning; his boyhood friendships with White Alam and Sanu the Fat with whom he develops a love of cinema and a secret code around the Japanese horror film, Godzilla, a linkage that re-emerges in surprising ways throughout the novel; in the painful love triangle he forms with his university poet friend Noor Azad and the feminist Dipa Kaiser, whom they both fall for; the journalistic career he forges reporting on the passage towards national freedom and its brutal repression; and the life-risking investigations he conducts into the corruption of the elites looking to seize the fruits of independence for themselves. In all these episodes, the novel holds the inner life of its narrator and the outer life of the society in masterly balance. As a vision of the world, it has a rich mix of its darkness and light. It truly is a War and Peace with a Tolstoyan philosophical depth (and unTolstoyan humour) and utterly contemporary and Bangla in image and voice.

Manzu Islam

Syed Manzurul (Manzu) Islam was born in 1953 in a small northeastern town in East Pakistan (later Bangladesh). He has a doctorate and was Reader in English at the University of Gloucestershire, specialising in postcolonial literature and creative writing.
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