A Plate of White Marble | Book Review

A Plate of White Marble | Book Review

A plate of white marble book review cover page

Book: A Plate of White Marble

Author: Bani Basu

Translated By: Nandini Guha

Reviewed By: Manas Mukul

Publisher: Niyogi Books (15 Sep 2020)

Pages: 328 (Paperback)

Price: 450 INR

ISBN-10: 9389136563

ISBN-13: 978-9389136562

Language: English

Genre: Classic Fiction

My rating: 4.5/5

A woman adorns so many roles during her lifetime. From being a daughter to being a mother, from being a daughter-in-law to being a mother-in-law, the list is endless for the various lives she lives. In playing all of these sometimes she forgets who she actually is. What’s her real identity. Coupled with endless traditions and discriminating customs whatever is left inside her just suffocates.

A Plate of White Marble is translated by Nandini Guha from Bengali to English, from Bani Basu’s original classic Swet Patharer Thala. Originally published in 1990 in Bengali, the book was also adopted in a National Award-winning movie with the same name. I would like to express my gratitude to Blogchatter’s Book Review Program for considering me for this book review otherwise I would have missed reading this wonderful book.

About the Author

Bani Basu is one of the most versatile contemporary writers in Bengali. An eminent academician, poet, novelist, essayist, critic and translator, Basu writes on diverse topics ranging from history and mythology to society, psychology and gender. She started her career as an original author with the publication of the novel, Janmabhumui-Matribhumi in 1980. Her well-known novels include Antarghat (The Enemy Within), Maitreya Jatak (The Birth of Maitreya), Kharap Chhele (Dark Afternoons), Swet Patharer Thala and Pancham Purush.

Nandini Guha is a retired Associate Professor of English at the College of Vocational Studies, University of Delhi. She received the Katha Award for translating Kharap Chhele (Dark Afternoons) by Bani Basu. Other remarkable translations from Bengali to English include Taslima Nasreen’s autobiography Utal Haoa (Wild Wind) and Anita Agnihotri’s Akal Bodhon (Awakening). Guha has also contributed translated pieces to Women in ConcertThe Essential Tagore and Shades of Difference.

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My Review

The cover page of the book in red with a sketch of a woman’s face drawn on it. It appears as if the woman is trying to peel off a mask. Surprisingly the back cover doesn’t have a blurb but instead has a hard-hitting line from the book (I will mention it in the Quotes section). It also has another sketch where it appears the vermilion has been wiped off a woman’s face along with a testimonial.  

Once you read the book you will realise the significance of the title, which is aptly chosen and is also a direct translation of the Bengali title. 

The story begins in 1955 at house number 45 Shyambazar Street where the Bhattacharya family resides. It is the tale of the protagonist Bandana who loses her caring and loving husband, Abhimanyu, at the ripe age of 27. The customs and the norms set by society are as old as the house itself, which is around a century old. 

What follows next are suffocating rituals right from what she should eat, what she should wear, where she should sit to being given a stone glass to drink and a white marble plate to eat from. It feels as if she too has died with her husband and if it was not for his five-year-old son she would have continued to live in that submissive inhuman way of ‘widowhood.’

It was the return of her Kaka that infuses a new lease of life in her. He brings her back to her maternal home. The story is a rollercoaster ride of her joys and agonies from here on in. Although, years after Abhimanyu’s death, she secures a job in Abhimanyu’s old firm but still craves for a companion. It is due to the unwillingness and harshness of his son that she gives up on the idea of pursuing love. 

Bani masterfully, through Bandana, portrays the plight of the Indian woman in society, more so when one becomes a widow. Though the story is based in 1955 and written in 1990 you will find so much of it is relevant even today. This translation comes at an apt time.

Some of the Best Lines

“…the mask of men are easier to penetrate than those of women. Each identity of yours is an individual mask – mother, wife, daughter. In all of these attributed identities there exists another person, an essential being, which remains hidden. You can catch it only in loneliness or solitude.”

“Possibly the punishment of leading a lifetime of depravation is more acutely felt than the grief and suffering caused by the loss of a dear one.”

“…I am deeply convinced that human life was not created for grief, murder, jealousy, mayhem, malice or inertia.”

“for the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be.”

Hits

The character portrayal is amazingly done, the relatable humanity of all characters is praiseworthy. You will live Bandana’s pain, sorrow and happier times throughout the story, which is proof of the quality of writing. The writing style is pretty lucid which is a crucial element for a translation and the story moves at a moderate pace given the subject of the story. 

Misses

To review a classic is very tricky. They are classics for a reason and one doesn’t want to draw too much irk from the lovers of that one. This one has hardly any flaws still the current generation who isn’t much aware of the era gone by might not relate to it and some portions might appear uninteresting to them. 

Verdict

Nandini Guha has done amazing work on this translation. Going by what I have read I can definitely say she has done total justice with the original work and in some ways elevated it. With this English version, I am sure the book would reach out to a much deserved wider audience.

A Plate of White Marble written by Bani Basu and translated by Nandini Guha is a thought-provoking, soul-stirring, transformational tale of a woman of an era that just witnessed the independence of a nation. The narrative will make you experience a myriad of emotions as you root for the protagonist. I am going with four and a half stars for ‘A Plate of White Marble’, an extra half for the commendable translation. Highly recommended.

Manas ‘Sameer’ Mukul

Drop your views about the review in the comments. If you want me to review any book for you do reach out at [email protected]

You can find previous book reviews here.

Drop your views about the review in the comments. If you want me to review any book for you do reach out at [email protected]

This review was done as part of the Blogchatter’s Book Review Program. Please sign up if you are a bibliophile.

My side of the bargain – an honest review – Find the Book here on Amazon and Goodreads.

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2 Responses

  1. Sonia Dogra says:

    Sounds very interesting

Love your feedback!

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