The Night Run
The difficulty with this slim novel is that it falls between two stools. On the one hand, it is a straightforward adventure story; Arjan must save his father who has been wrongfully arrested, and thus sets out through the night to find him, encountering and overcoming many dangers along the way. On the other hand, it is set in an historical context during the political turmoil of India in 1919 but fails to deal squarely with the events of that particular period. I feel history should be more than just a backdrop to a story and should be done properly or not at all.
With a somewhat thin historical account it sounds casually racist – substitute the word Jew or Black for British and you’ll see what I mean – but the period warrants a more evidential-based viewpoint and an understanding of the real life issues involved. The tragic events at Jallianwalla Bagh are something everyone should know about.
Given that caveat, the adventure part of the story grips. Arjan, although rather two-dimensional, gets into enough tight corners to make us wonder how he is going to escape, let alone rescue his father. His flight through night-time Amritsar is a graphic description of a rat-infested city with its open sewers, shared open air latrines, packs of wild dogs, armed Indian militia, gun-toting police and a villain called The Bull with a dog called Death. Arjan is helped by the apparent guardian angel of Amritsar, a mysterious and half magical woman called Heera, and a young girl he rescues from ‘bandits’ – a euphemism for a more sinister activity. I have serious doubts about a story for twelve-year-olds that introduces the idea of child prostitution.