1947, the year British India is partitioned into the independent nations of India and Pakistan. As the country is torn in two and tension between ethnic groups explodes, we follow the stories of four people thrown into the midst of the chaos. Eight-year-old Hindu twin boys, Shankar and Keshav, are separated from their mother at the train station and set off alone to search for her. Sixteen-year-old Simran, a Sikh girl, flees a father who would rather kill his wife and children than have them fall prey to Muslim marauders. Ibrahim, a shy, stammering, middle-aged Muslim doctor whose practice is destroyed, joins the wave of itinerants moving toward the Pakistani border. Watching over all four as their lives move toward convergence is the narrator, the spirit of the twins’ dead father.
The word “lyrical” can be a euphemism for “no real plot,” but that is not the case with this novel. The story is a compelling narrative that moves with cadence, sometimes tender, sometimes terrifying, beginning in confusion, but ultimately hopeful. It is about people finding – and giving – humanity, faith and love in a world where all these virtues seem to have been shattered along with a nation.
I would probably not have selected this book for myself, but I found myself hooked after the first few pages, and finished it in a little over a day. A commendable debut, and recommended reading.