Anam uses Zubaida’s study of the evolution of the Ambulocetus as a metaphor to reveal the mystery surrounding her own transformation. Similar to the Ambulocetus, Zubaida finds herself in a position where she is to make a decision between two homes, Bangladesh and America. She fears that her decision will dismantle the remnants of her own life.
Diana was once a creature of land yet as her ” descendants became bolder” (Anam 389) leaving the comforts of their home and “travelling to deeper and wider waters, their snouts elongating, their feet becoming webbed, their front teeth narrowing to catch prey underwater” (389), undertaking an evolutionary transformation that is provoked by their surrounding and the culture to which they find themselves adjusting to. In the same manner, Zubaida leaves her home in America for an adventure to Bangladesh, where she finds herself conforming to the ideas, demands, and lifestyle of her surrounding. America, where she finds Elijah and receives an education that demonstrated her fortitude and hardworking nature is abandoned for a world that pays very little regards to her accomplishments because of her status as a women, and where she marries Rashid, her childhood friend, not out of love but simply out of habit, having been together ever since childhood. Despite their long relationship, Zubaida seems to have very little emotions, let alone responsibility toward Rashid, and this sense of detachment is represented throughout the novel, is connections with her parents, in laws, Shona, and to some extent her country. Although her family is pleased with her compliance, Zubaida simmers with discontent. The inevitable force of her cultural responsibility compels her to make a regretful decision, where she marries her “childhood sweetheart” (351) and settles into a traditional Bangladeshi life. Zubaida slowly becomes rooted in this new culture and her identity begins changing.
The freedom of action that she once had is lost, and decisions are being made for her and she feels powerless to stop it. This feeling of being in between two different generations of culture takes charge of her, rendering her inactive for a good portion of the novel and depicting her as just a bystander as life goes around her. Zubaida feels that she owes her parents a lot because they had saved her from a life of poverty by adopting her, so in order to repay them, she agrees to make them happy by surrendering to whatever pleases them, like marrying Rashid, even though she is in love with Elijah (93). Zubaida finds herself conforming to the norm of her new culture, for instant when Rashid invites her to go to a wedding. Even though she isn’t feeling up to it, she did regardless because she feels compelled to keep this image of a healthy relationship between her and Rashid, despite the fact that they had been arguing lately. She is afraid of her parents finding out that things are not working out between them, a news that would be devastating and heartbreaking to her family. Similarly, when Rashid’s parents tell her to “stop eating that filth” referring to the pork meat she is eating, she finds herself again giving up her personal habits in order to conform to this new culture when she sells this image of a perfect Muslim household. Zubaida slowly starts realizing that she is living a life formulated by lies yet is reluctant to take actions because simply, tradition (322-323).
“That I, having attended the elite college in New England, and the Harvard, would be more educated than Rashid…. Dolly and Bulbul had mentioned it casually, and my parents had dismissed it,” (303) in fact, they basically say that her education is a “small thing” that does not matter thereby expecting her to act as they knew a woman should, to always be in the shadows of her husband just like her dadu who demonstrates how exceptional of a woman she is, only when she starts taking care of the household expenses coming from the small sums that her husband brings home every month (262). Zubaida finds herself in a particularly uncomfortable position within her family upon learning that she was never her parent’s child to begin with and the fact that they have been lying to her about where and whom she came from for her whole life. She finds herself in a situation where she can not trust those around her and Anam makes uses of this to build on her character and demonstrate the type of person these events turn her into.
When Zubaida was nine years old, she is told that she was adopted and that made her feel uneasy, to the point where she feels a “sudden urge to vomit,”(5). Zubaida never knew her real parents and the fact that she was sold by her mom never made her life any less pleasant, being that her parents are of the wealthy class and the fact that she lives among those who preside over their wealth with smug pride while looking down on the “shit poor”, those whom Zubaida comes from. Zubaida herself, refers to her real mom as “a woman who took money for one child so she could raise another,” (371) shaming her in a sense and it all sounds terrible but based on the decision that her mom made she never got to experience what her twin sister had to. Megna was had to settle with being a prostitute because the man that impregnated her left to go build a skyscraper, and she had nowhere else to go, so she lived a life of a whore in order to care for her child and herself. Fortunately, Zubaida was saved from such a life and finds herself in wealthy family that gave to her what many hope for. Anam is proactive in her effort to showcase the small transformations to Zubaida’s character throughout the novel, but more importantly is her description of the revelation of the family Zubaida had never stopped searching for. Much was given to her but at the same time so much was kept from her, by her parents to Rashid’s parents, covering up the fact that she was adopted and hiding secrets about her mom and her adoption (335).
It’s no wonder she feels betrayed by those she trust and love. Her perception of who she thought her parents were starts changing along with the ideas she had about herself. A year into her marriage with Rashid, Zubaida finds herself pregnant with a child that she initial wasn’t fond of but them later she starts realizing that this might be her only chance of ever finding a family that is her own, one that is not only strong through love and emotions but mainly by blood. She felt truly happy about this turn about and regrets all things bad she had said to this unborn child.
She whispers to it and takes it all back, but after having lost her child, she gets depressed and loses hope once again about ever finding a family that is truly hers. Zubaida is placed in a situation where she felt like everyone was hiding things from her and upon having `found the one and only hope in her life, it gets stripped away and her spirit in turn breaks. She run away hoping that maybe she will be able to find answers that she is apparently not getting from being around her family. One story leads to another and she constantly finds herself in this rollercoaster of emotions and revelations that either keep hurting her or giving her false hope. She meets her twin sister’s daughter and finally, she feels she has found what she has long been searching for, akin. “My sister’s daughter is my daughter” (393) she says cheerfully, hoping that maybe Shona is perhaps the missing piece to her life’s puzzle.
She finally finds something stable to keep her grounded for a while but I suppose it was never what she has being looking for because only a few days with her niece revealed that she is nowhere near prepared for the responsibilities that she would bring. Anam uses many instances to demonstrate the growth that Zubaida undergoes, but none compare to her time she spends with Shona and what it taught her about herself. Zubaida has been on a search for her identity since the commencement of the novel, she comes to many conclusions as to how she aims to discover who she really is and in some way or another, the changes to her persona occur in effect of her culture or her surrounding. Zubaida ultimately comes to a conclusion that having a family of her own will give her the understanding that she had been longing for. Shona was supposed to give her that satisfaction or feeling of fulfillment of having achieved what she has been searching for and her returning Shona back to the village shows that it wasn’t that she didn’t care about Shona’s well being but that she feels that. It seems she did not want this new environment to change her personality reason why after finding what she came for she returns to America. She goes back America and pursues her dreams and her career as a paleontologist (404-406).
She abandons her old life behind and leave nothing but the connections and experiences to remind her of a life she once was a part of. Zubaida goes forward towards a life that made her feel comfort and joy, having now found herself amidst two worlds.Anam makes use of the evolution of the ambulocetus as a metaphor of Zubaida’s own transformation. Zubaida is used to living a life being sheltered by her Marxist parents, but after learning so much about herself she evolves into a different individual, moving forward with her evolution as she goes to America, leaving behind the old life that is heavily concentrated with traditions and norms that were only holding her true identity back. As she did not want to be held back by the old ways, she advances to a new and better life just as the Diana did.
Zubaida is now proud of who she is, unashamed of the broken pieces of her past and is proud to display them to the world similarly to how she showcases the bones of Diana at the end of the novel. Anam fairly demonstrated the development of Zubaida’s identity through the metaphor of the walking whale Diana, and by differentiating them as hy