The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani; Dial Books for Young Readers, 258 pages ($16.99) Ages 8 to 12.
This extraordinary, poignant, coming-of-age novel, of a 12-year-old girl forced to flee her childhood home during the bloody partition of India in 1947, is written as a diary and based on the experience of the author's father and his family. Nisha's voice, in the diary format, gives a compelling immediacy, through a child's eyes, of the frightening upheaval and shocking upset of neighbor turned against neighbor, of familiar things gone forever, of sudden, bloody violence as Muslims moved to newly formed Pakistan and Hindus to the new India in the largest migration in human history.
Nisha and her twin brother, Amil, are the children of a mixed marriage – a Muslim mother who died when they were born, and a Hindu father, a doctor at the local hospital. Thus the family already has experienced family divisions over the religious difference, giving them a larger perspective on the turmoil to come. (Nisha's father quotes Gandhi: "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.") The twins live in a pleasant home in Mirpor Khas with their father, their grandmother, and their Muslim cook, Kazi. As the threat of violence against Hindus escalates, the family packs only what they can carry to flee on foot to a relative's house many miles away on their journey to their new home in Jodphur across the Pakistan border in India.
Through Nisha's voice, the reader vividly experiences the physical trauma of the journey, the dust, the thirst, the hunger, the weariness, the distrust of other strangers making the same journey, the life-giving thrill of finding a mango, or water from an unexpected rain shower. Hiranandani beautifully depicts the traumatic experience, of life stripped to its essentials and Nisha's growing awareness of her family's love for each other. This is a fascinating, deeply personal look at a historical event most young readers are not familiar with but its truths about the refugee experience, and the power of love to create a new home in a strange place, resonate today.