By Val Rwigema
A review of Shaf and the Remington by Rana Bose
About the Shaf and the Remington
A physics teacher– a partisan fighter during the Second World War in the Balkans– has not been heard of, for forty years. His disappearance is intriguing. Because he was quite ubiquitous, both in the mountains and later on in academia. He was given to making incomprehensible pronouncements combining physics and philosophy, and sometimes lose focus during lectures. Did his intensity and the sporadic displays of madness stem from a deeply suppressed anguish and torment about the killing of his mother and his girlfriend by fascists during WWII? Or, was it his complicated mission to explain pure physics and the mechanics of the human condition? He was reportedly heard of as teaching in the US during the Cold War period, and as well back in Europe. Where did he disappear to?
His former student Ben, has been looking for him for all these years. When he finally finds him– in the very city he had grown up in–it is a sad and traumatic finale. In the background– four generations of a Balkan family — from a grandfather who is a vicious and murderous government bureaucrat and admirer of Mussolini, to a father who is an enigmatic doctor and partisan leader and a mother who once taught Electro-Magnetism in a Polytechnique. And then there is Ben, who is now a lawyer in Zurich, with his wife Anahita and teenage son. Accompanying this story is the appearance and disappearance of a Remington double barrel gun—which has been instrumental in annulling or resolving several conflicts.
Ben is the first narrator, followed by Shaf himself who is the second. The novel is set in a fictitious town in an unnamed country in the Balkans. It starts right around the time of the first great War and its very peculiar onset. It then travels through the final collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the rise of Nazism and Fascism, the Partisan resistance with its enormous promise of a just society, followed by the Marshall Plan, the Truman Doctrine, the Cold War period and culminates in the late-eighties, as both Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union are about to dissolve.
Reviews and praise for Shaf and the Remington
“Set in the fictitious town of Sabzic in what is clearly Yugoslavia but never identified as such, Bose relates the personal stories of Ben and Shaf against the backdrop of invading panzer divisions and local partisans. But this is in no way historical fiction. Rather, it is an allegory to the forces of human nature, which pit the petty desire to divide against the will to unite. … [Rana Bose] would certainly merit a place in Canada’s pantheon of outstanding writers.”Ian Thomas Shaw, The Ottawa Review of Books.
“Where to start? The characters are so full of life, distinct and engaging. The structure is perfect. I loved the artful ending. All is tied up but in a light, electric way. Nothing is heavy-handed. The themes are so prescient. (Rana Bose’s) novel is a brilliant exploration of “the end of an era” – the post-war truce between races, religions and ideologies. I thank (Rana) for restoring my faith in the novel. In addition to being a fiercely intelligent political novel, the prose is luscious.”Marianne Ackerman, novelist, playwright, and journalist, author of Mankind and Other Stories of Women
“This is a gripping, exuberantly written tale, mixing genres and vocabularies, tracking the elusive dream of interethnic harmony. Rana Bose’s story is beautiful and wise.”Sherry Simon, Canada Chair in Translation and Cultural History, Director of Concordia’s Interdisciplinary PhD in Humanities Program, author of The City in Translation: “Urban Cultures of Central Europe”
“Masterfully crafted, the final pages of the book compel the reader to start over again.”Nilambri Ghai, founding member and editor of Montréal Serai, author of From Johanne to Janaki: Bringing Vikings to Varanasi.