The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
In the Author’s Note of her book, Veera Hiranandani provides the context for her captivating historical fiction novel, The Night Diary:
During the days of August 14 and August 15, 1947, India gained independence from British rule and was partitioned into two republics, India and Pakistan. The partition came after centuries of religious tension between Indian Hindus and Indian Muslims. There were many people who did not want India split into two countries, but it was ultimately agreed upon by the leaders in charge.
Set against this backdrop is Nisha’s story, told through diary entries written to her dead mother. We meet Nisha’s family: her father, her twin brother Amil, and her grandmother. As tensions build, and their beloved cook, Kazi, is attacked, Nisha’s Papa decides it’s time for the family to cross the newly-created border. Nisha’s mother was Muslim and her father is Hindu, and Nisha is unsure exactly where she fits now:
“I’m still not sure what it means to be free from British rule. Papa says they have ruled over India for almost 200 years. I don’t feel British at all. English children from the books or newspapers I’ve seen don’t look like I do. They have light skin. They wear different clothes. I know Papa drinks English tea and has English biscuits. I know that there is a British guard who stands outside the Mirpur Khas City Hospital. I know that we have British furniture in our bungalow, like the upholstered wooden chairs in the sitting room and our large oval dining table and English china. I also know that the British aren’t going to be the rulers anymore and I guess we don’t like British people telling us what to do. Will Papa drink different tea? Will the guard leave? Will we have to give back the chairs and table?”
The family sets out on foot and as the days and miles wear on, their food and water supplies run desperately low. They arrive at the home of their mother’s brother and are able to rest and recuperate somewhat before striking out again, this time by train. The conditions are crowded and terrifying. Nisha and Amil witness a deadly attack. Finally, they reach their destination.
Nisha’s diary tells the story of a young girl caught in the midst of upheaval trying her best to be brave. This is a terrific book to recommend to readers who enjoy historical fiction or who enjoy reading about characters who triumph over hardship. It would be a wonderful addition to a middle-grade class library but as always, you know your students best and who needs what book at what time in their reading lives.