The Night Diary

Written by Veera Hiranandani
Review by Elizabeth Caulfield Felt

India/Pakistan, 1947. For her twelfth birthday, Nisha receives a diary. She decides to write in it every night, summarizing her day for her mother, who died when she and her twin brother Amil were born. Her early entries detail her normal life: Nisha is shy and has problems talking, often going for many days without saying anything to anyone but her twin. She loves school, but Amil struggles with reading, much to her doctor-father’s displeasure. Nisha loves to cook and is being taught how to grind spices and boil rice and dal by her family’s live-in cook, Kazi. When India receives independence from Britain, Nisha cannot understand why the country must be split in two. Her mother was Muslim, but her father is Hindu, so the family must leave their home which is now Pakistan and belongs to the Muslims. Attempting to reach Jodhpur and her father’s brothers, they must cross a desert in an attempt to avoid the violence that has incomprehensibly broken out.

This Newbery Honor book brings to life the history and culture and confusion of its setting. Nisha’s voice is superb—her diary entries simple and short, yet powerful and moving. All of the characters are wonderful. Nisha is innocent, with a deep longing for her mother and anyone who will love her. Her brother and father, grandmother and cook develop and change as Nisha’s perceptions of them grow. This may be the first time child readers learn about Indian independence, the establishment of Pakistan, and the violence that followed. It handles the subject appropriately for its intended audience. Nisha’s diary shows readers that people around the world have much more in common than they have different. Highly recommended.