Ketil Bjørnstad’s Nåde: violence, marginality, and the question of Bengali-Buddhist identity in modern Bangladesh
ABSTRACT This review essay offers an excursion into Ketil Bjørnstad’s Nåde (1998), a fine Norwegian novel centered on a Buddhist character and situated in post-1971 Muslim Bangladesh, and its recent translation into Bengali which seems to avoid many pitfalls common in “interlingual translation or translation proper” (to use Jakobson’s famous phrase) and succeeds, in my judgment as a translator and Bengali writer, in meeting the challenge of delivering an aesthetic equivalent of the source text. The creative commingling of novelistic discourse and ethnographic, situated description—which, as sociologist Howard Becker has shown, is different from “analytic summary” of observable phenomena—is highlighted; major themes running through the narrative—e.g., Bengali and Bengali-Buddhist identity, cultural allegiances and modalities of belonging—are identified and their significance for understanding the plight of Buddhists and other minorities, frequently caught in the midst of violent political conflicts in a politically divided Bangladesh, is closely attended to and commented on.
Keywords: Bengali-Buddhist identity, Norwegian novel, Bangladesh, Buddhists, Ketil Bjørnstad, Nåde
Salahuddin Ayub, Ph.D. is a faculty member in the Department of Criminal Justice, Philosophy, and Political Science at Chicago State University. He published several books in Bengali, including Adhunikata o Uttoradhunikata (Modernity and Postmodernity; Dhaka: Mawla Brothers, 1994), Sanskritir Jiggasha (Cultural Inquiries; Dhaka: Bangla Academy, 1999), Nazrul Shahitter Nandantattic Bichar (An Aesthetic Reading of Nazrul Islam; Dhaka: Nazrul Institute, 1997), and translated Francis Buchanan in Southeast Bengal (1798), edited by Willem van Schendel (International Center for Bengal Studies Series 5; Dhaka: University of Dhaka, 1994).