The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani, 272 pp, RL 4
The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
Purchased in paperback from Barnes & Noble
Audio Book narrated by Priya Ayyar,
purchased from Audible
Through the voice of twelve-year-old Nisha, writing in a diary to her mother, Hirandanani introduces readers to British India one month before the Partition of 1947 that displaced, often with violence, tens of millions of people along religious lines. Nisha and her twin brother Amil are the children of a Hindu father and a Muslim mother who died giving birth to them. Deciding that life in Mirpur Khas has become too dangerous, Nisha's father decides to move the family, including his elderly mother, Dadi, leaving behind Kazi, the family cook who is Muslim.
Nisha is painfully shy and only speaks to Amil and Kazi, who teaches her how to cook. Amil is a gifted artist, like their mother, who must hide his drawings from his father, who is constantly disappointed by his failures in school. Nisha's voice as the narrator reflects the circumscribed world she lives in due of her silence. As the family embarks on their journey, Nisha's innocence slips away as they face harrowing experience, from near death due to dehydration and violence while her curiosity and growing desire to understand the chaos erupting in the world around her force her to grow.
Hiranandani's writing, in the voice of Nisha, is vivid and intense, especially when she is describing the challenge of traveling on foot, facing extreme thirst. As the family nears Umerkot, where Rashid Uncle lives in Nisha's mother's childhood home, they face danger once again, this time at knifepoint. Once they are safely hidden in Rashid Uncle's home, Nisha's world expands again as she makes a connection with her uncle, who has a cleft lip and does not speak. Together in the kitchen, they cook for the family, nursing Dadi back to health. Being in the home where her mother grew up, Nisha comes to know her better, making connections with the paintings she left behind. With courage from this connection, Nisha befriends the Muslim neighbor girl she sees playing in the nearby yard. While this allows her to grow as she tries to speak to Hafa, she ultimately endangers the family and forces them to leave Rashid Uncle's for the harrowing train ride that will take them to "new India," to Jodhpur.
Using Nisha's voice to tell the story of the violence and strife that created a wave of refugees demands skill that Hiranandani's delivers. It is moving to see Nisha's strength and how it comes out over the course of her story and her perspective on the events around her as she comes to question and gain understanding of human nature show a compassion and empathy that is unforgettable. The Night Diary is historical fiction at its best.