Book Review: The Night's Diary
“Papa says that everyone is killing one another now, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs. Everyone is to blame. He says that when you separate people into groups, they start to believe that one group is better than another. I think about Papa’s medical books and how we all have the same blood, and organs, and bones inside us, no matter what religion we’re supposed to be.” --The Night Diary, Veera Hiranandani
The Night Diary is the account of Nisha, a twelve-year-old girl, who experiences the ramifications of the 1947 partition of India. Nisha and her brother, Amil, are half Hindu and half Muslim and they live with their family in the land that will become Pakistan when India is split in two. We follow Nisha’s story as she records her daily thoughts, emotions, and questions in her journal that she addresses to her mother, who died during childbirth. Due to the widespread violence, Nisha and her family are no longer safe in Pakistan and are forced to flee from everything she knows. They must cross the border into the new India despite their good standing with their fellow Muslim friends and family.
This story is a powerful depiction of unconditional love, kinship, suffering, and sacrifice. One of my favorite details of this book is the close brother-sister relationship between Nisha and Amil. Their relationship is heartwarming and they have a special connection that I’m sure formed while they were in their mother’s womb together. Nisha also forms a strong relationship with Kazi, a practicing Muslim who lives with her family as their cook. Kazi teaches Nisha how to prepare dishes in the kitchen and he becomes an important mentor-figure in her life. Through this rich character development, Hiranandani shows how the bonds of family are stronger than that of blood and even religion.
At twelve years old, Nisha and her brother Amil embark on the dangerous journey to safety within the new border of India, they witness brutal attacks caused by the civil war and experience the devastation of being internally displaced and ultimately become refugees. Through the eyes of a child, Hiranandani is able to pose innocent questions that expose the faults and patterns of humanity. As Nisha processes the events of her life, she counters the selfishness of the countries’ politics and ultimately undergoes triumph through her personal revelations.
Veera Hiranandani, similar to Nisha, was born into a family of mixed religion. Hiranandani describes her life:
“growing up wasn’t always easy. My mother is Jewish-American, my father is from a Hindu family in India, and I didn’t know any kids like me where I lived. But coming from two cultures and not always fitting in has probably made me a stronger person. I was also pretty shy, so I spent a lot of time quietly watching other people” (www.veerahiranandani.com).
Hiranandani’s feelings as a child are directly reflected in Nisha’s personality and thought processes. This creates a genuine, unique perspective that can only be portrayed through experience. The Night Diary is a re-telling of some of the details from her grandfather’s story and the challenges he and his family encountered during the partition of India. Katie and I highly recommend reading this beautiful work of historical fiction.