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An Exciting Thriller Explores the Nuanced Difference Between Killing for a Flag and Killing for a Paycheck

Book title: The Mercenary

Author: Moinul Ahsan Saber

Translator: Shabnam Nadiya

Published by: Seagull Books

Genre: Literary Fiction, Translation



Book summary:

This gripping novel brilliantly straddles the divide between thrillers and literature. Moinul Ahsan Saber here tells the story of Kobej Lethel, a ruthless soldier of fortune employed by a corrupt village chief. Lethel has never had a problem with the job before: he gets an assignment and handles it, even if that entails violence. But during Bangladesh’s War of Independence, the chief sides with the Pakistani army as it carries out unspeakable atrocities. Suddenly, Lethel can no longer accept his role—he refuses, and rebels. But the transformation proves temporary: by the end of the war, he’s back to his old ways, fighting for nothing more than a paycheck, on nothing more than an order.

A powerful novel of war, history, and the deadly draw of violence, The Mercenary is an unforgettable look into the mind of a man who cannot escape the killing that has become his occupation.

About the Author:

Moinul Ahsan Saber is a fiction writer of Bangladesh. He is the executive editor of popular weekly magazine Saptahik 2000 published from Dhaka. Saber emerged as a writer and gained fame with the publication of his first novel Porasto Sahish in 1982.

About the Translator:

Shabnam Nadiya writer and translator from Bangladesh. Her translations have won a host of literary awards. Her work has appeared in Flash Fiction International, Law and Disorder: Stories of Conflict and Crime, One World and journals such as Amazon’s Day One, Wasafari, Words without Borders and Gulf Coast.

My Review:

The Mercenary by Moinul Ahsan Saber is a story of a few men in the backdrop of a war, centered around the emergence of a new nation after shunning the hold of an older one. But it is also a story that lays bare the disconnect between political leaders above and the common people who follow them or who are made to follow them into worlds that are not of their doing.

Translated from Bengali by Shabnam Nadiya, this short novel takes readers into the time that Bangladesh was transitioning into a new country and caught into the throes of military violence and socio religious divides. Through the lives of two well to do men in a village who are looking at settling their personal scores while trying to assert their hold and power, the author takes readers into the moral descent of men when they are caught by political turmoil around them. But it is the third male protagonist, Kobej a ruffian and a murder accused who is never swept off his feet by the winds of opportunity that are blowing around him.

There are other minor male protagonists in the narrative: a commanding officer whose whims will decide what happens to the people in the village, one who will pit the two men against each other and another character who is mentioned more in the narrative but who appears much later, someone whose principles will not allow him to join anything wrong, one helpless to stop the wrong around him. It is Kobej whose interactions with all the other characters form the arc of the narrative and him alone who asks for moral accountability and reason.

It is Kobej who asks for honesty and for humanity while he remains mired in a world of violence and being left at the mercy of people who will decide his fate, people who spout nationalism without a shred of decency or moral courage. Whose war and for what end is what Kobej wonders: does a language and a flag and a religion change things because the powerful ones say so? The narrative and writing holds the story of the protagonists as if it is a thriller: you never know which way the story is going to take a turn. And even as this happens, there is a layered look at whether revolution brings about change: whose change is what Kobej asks. It probes how the fight for a nation involves the death and decay of individual principles and if at all, how those oppressed still remain in the same situation regardless of the grandeur of new beginnings and the compromises that are forced down on the common men and women whose lives remain shattered and fractured forever.

In less than 200 pages, The Mercenary enthralls with a story that readers will want to know what happens while giving room to pause with a narrative that evokes some deep questioning.

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