Saturday, 2 July, 2022
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BOOK REVIEW

Postcolonial Perspectives on Literature and English Studies

Nasih Ul Wadud Alam

Postcolonial Perspectives on Literature and English Studies

The book I am reviewing here is Fakrul Alam’s Reading Literature in English and English Studies in Bangladesh Postcolonial Perspectives. It was published by writers.ink in 2021. Readers will find that this critically acclaimed volume is divided into four parts: “Reading Literature Postcolonially,” “Essays on a Few Major Postcolonial Writers,” “English Studies in Bangladesh in the Age of Globalization,” and “Reading Some Great Writers Postcolonially.” This intellectually condensed book has 24 critical essays in total. Alam himself acknowledges that some of his essays have similarities in thematic patterns and critical insights.

In “Imagining South Asian Writing in English from Bangladesh,” Alam points to the rise of “linguistic nationalism” post-independence, thus reducing the use and usability of English “as the medium of instruction” (142). As a result, the English writers of Bangladesh, according to him, have not been able to territorialize their position as strongly as the Indian counterparts writing in English. However, Alam lauds the Bangladesh Poet Kaiser Haq for imagining “a body of writing embedded in our soil, but also one that is a trans-Indian subcontinent phenomenon, and ultimately a movement vitally involved with world literature for sustenance and growth” (150).

Alam’s “The Commodification of English Studies in Bangladesh” is “an account of the rise of ELT as an academic subject and the waning of English literature in the universities of Bangladesh” (339). Alam stresses that English Language Teaching (ELT) pedagogy has made the steps of learning “market-driven.” He opines that the British Council promotes ELT pedagogy, in lieu of “English history and culture.” Moreover, the marketability of English as an international language has encouraged more Bangladesh students to switch their focus on ELT. Although not in complete denial of the effectiveness of ELT, Alam argues that the “techniques of communication,” close reading and rhetorical interpretations will make “our readers critical thinkers and effective writers” (362).

In another chapter, “Revisioning English Language in Bangladesh in the Age of Globalization and ELT, Alam sheds light on the inadequate quality of English writing from students sitting for tertiary level admission tests. Particularly, he alludes to Dhaka University’s English paper admission test that was conducted by the university’s test-givers to admit students who, as the examiners predicted and hoped, would at least know how to write basic sentences in English correctly. But the test-result gave a bleak picture. Only two test-takers, out of thousands, passed the comprehensive exam, while in objective-based question patterns, now many admission-seekers, whether they meet the language ability criteria or not, tend to pass the multiple-choice based questions with excellence. Then, the competition for each seat becomes so congested and competitive that some admission-seekers even adopt subterfuge means to get enrolled at a public university.

Alam does not discuss the failure of MCQ systems in detail. At the same time, he does not mention the number of established private universities setting up comprehensive exams encouraging freedom of expression in writing in English. Alam suggests the introduction of “literary texts” as a “graded scheme” in “the final years of school and HSC passages” (419), which is hard to implement in rural areas and low-ranked schools and colleges. For that reason, Alam thinks that Bengali medium schools should learn from the way English medium/version schools prepare their students for ensuring academic excellence right from their academic initiation.

Fakrul Alam’s Reading Literature in English and English Studies in Bangladesh Postcolonial Perspectives is a riveting read. Reading Alam’s books makes me feel awed by his repertoire of knowledge, and an excellent use of prose-style, which any budding Bangladesh writers could/should emulate. The amount of hard-work he had to put in to become one of the celebrity scholars writing in English inspires me to knuckle down to study, write voraciously and lament less about the bygone years spent in dilettantish behavior. If you want to improve your English, buy the book. I promise the money will be worth well-spent.

 

The writer is a freelance contributor