Monday, 20 August 2018

Book Review: The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

Book: The Night Diary

Author: Veera Hiranandani

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Pages: 272

Read On: Paperback Edition

How Long it Took Me To Read: 2 days

Plot Summary: It's 1947, and India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created much tension between Hindus and Muslims, and hundreds of thousands are killed crossing borders.

Half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old Nisha doesn't know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. When Papa decides it's too dangerous to stay in what is now Pakistan, Nisha and her family become refugees and embark first by train but later on foot to reach her new home. The journey is long, difficult, and dangerous, and after losing her mother as a baby, Nisha can't imagine losing her homeland, too. But even if her country has been ripped apart, Nisha still believes in the possibility of putting herself back together.

Told through Nisha's letters to her mother, The Night Diary is a heartfelt story of one girl's search for home, for her own identity...and for a hopeful future.

General Thoughts: I was sent this book by the kind folks over at Penguin India in exchange for an honest review. So all the thoughts and my review that follows is entirely my own and is 100% honest as always. :)

Things I Liked: 

1. Reading about the partition can be hard and heart breaking. And incredibly poignant especially given that I read this around Independence Day. It was honestly a perfect read to mark and honour our anniversary of Independence from the British Rule. Independence was of course a good thing. A great thing, to be masters of our fate- is there anything better than that? I think not and all the blood, sweat and hardship that went into our freedom is not mean feat. I am eternally grateful for all the sacrifices men, women and even children made for us to have our freedom. But it's equally important to remember that our freedom came at a massive cost. Partition ripped our nation into two and cost millions of lives. It leaves a palpable scar even today, 71 years after the fact. So books like these that chronicle that time and document the lives of those affected by it are very important to read.

2. I personally love books told via letter and diary entries. So this book was total treat to read. Since it combines a little bit of both. The book is told in a diary but it's letter our protagonist Nisha writes to her dead mother. So it has the honestly and unfiltered thoughts and feelings of a 12 year old girl grappling with so many huge changes in her life but also has the dated and chronology that a diary demands. All good things.

3. The author has done a great job with Nisha's character. She leaps off the pages as a real, living, breathing person. We get to know her so well and it was a delight to see her world- as turbulent as it was- through her eyes.

4. This book is aimed at young readers and it is a great way for them to see the first hand experience of something they read about in history books. I know I would have loved having this book when I was first learning about our freedom struggle and subsequent independence and partition. It would have added an human dimension to my history textbooks. So if you have a kid who is learning about these things in history, I highly recommend you get this book for them.

5. Even though this a young adult book it works just as well as a grown up. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

6. So many books about partition paint a picture of things going insane in an instant. Which is a little silly given we know how things went down in most places. This book gets it right, the simmering discontent right. You can feel the unease this family must have felt, the fear and the unknown future ahead of them.

7. The journey from their old home (now in the newly formed Pakistan) to India is harrowing and really made me feel like I was there with them. The author has completely nailed it.

8. I also really liked this family. They aren' perfect, far from it. They are fairly dysfunctional and yet it made for compelling reading. So many novels about the partition show these huge incredibly happy families as if only happy families were wrecked by the devastation of partition. It's almost a means of showing a clear before and after, you know what I mean? Like huge happy family before and then sad and traumatised family after. Like the tragedy is any less if it's just a family of three or four.

9. The book also pretty great secondary characters too, some of my favourites were:

Amal, Nisha's twin brother, who is grappling with a lot of issues separate from the state of affairs of the time. Bullying. Being not a stereotypical boy. A learning disability which would sadly probably go entirely undiagnosed in the 1940s. I really liked Amal and wished him well.

Kazi their longtime and loyal servant, who was just a sweet heart and I really loved reading about him and Nisha cooking meals together.

The slightly standoffish and, in so many ways, a stereotypical father.

10. The book also gives us snippets about Nisha's parents lives and how they had a inter-religious love marriage in the 1940s and how it affected their families. I liked getting this story as a bonus to everything else that was going on in the book. I especially liked getting to hear about Nisha's mother.

Rating: 4/5

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