Tahmina Anam’s The Bones of Grace is a beautifully written love letter that weaves in family, desire, and the fossil of a walking whale. Zubaida, the woman at the center of this novel, is on the eve of leaving her PhD program at Harvard when she falls in love with Elijah. After a whirlwind of days, she leaves for a paleontology dig, in search of an elusive fossil. After the dig falls apart, Z returns to her family in Bangladesh, and the man her family has always assumed she will marry.
This book is her letter to Elijah, the man she loves through it all–an attempt to offer an explanation, in hopes that their story might continue despite everything that has happened. Zubaida, as the letter writer, serves as narrator, and the reader takes the position of Elijah, the “you” that the entire story is directed to.
Tucked throughout are wondrous stories–a piano in the body of a cruise ship set to be dismantled and wrecked on the coast of Bangladesh, the dig allowed under tenuous circumstances. These take their place alongside the more mundane–the push pull of family expectation and personal desire, the tug of unknown history and the search for answers.
At a point when her life is falling apart, Z helps an American documentary maker looking at the working conditions at a ship breaking yard, where massive beasts are taken apart and sold for parts. The real becomes surreal.
Even to my untrained ear, I could tell the piano did not sound as it should. In that way, I thought it was very much like you and me. Every day that passed, we were exposed a little further to the elements, every day we became a little more fragile, showing how easily we might be destroyed. How much we needed to be saved.
To anyone who read my review of Alexander Chee’s The Queen of the Night, you know I love writing involving the charms of music, and this book is no exception. But the piece about the piano is only one in an enthralling compilation, expertly woven together. The Bones of Grace touches at the nuances of our complex humanity, internal conflicts, global lives, and ultimately, an enduring optimism in the strength of love.