Published by Dial Books
Publication date: March 6, 2018
Genres: Book Clubs, Coming-of-age, Debut, Fiction, Young Adult
Set in 1947 The Night Diary is the story of twelve-year-old twins, Amil and Nisha, who live in what was once India but has now, almost overnight, turned into Pakistan. Their mother, who died giving birth, was Muslim, but their father is Hindu—making them unwelcome where they are. They must get across the border into India and begin a new life away from everyone they have known and loved. For Nisha this is particularly difficult because she has no friends, just the family’s cook, Kazi, who is Muslim and cannot come with them.
The twins’ story is compounded by the fact that they are very different in one fundamental way: Amil is all light, movement, and sound, but he can barely read and doesn’t write. Nisha is quiet, still, and smart, but she doesn’t talk. Instead, in The Night Diary her voice is found through letters she writes each night to her mother.
It feels scary to talk, because once words are out, you can’t put them back in. But if you write words and they don’t come out the way you want them to, you can erase them and start over.
A journey of 100 miles, meant to be taken by train, turns into an ordeal of many months when sectarian violence means they have to go on foot. Her diary is one of the few possessions Nisha gets to keep and she uses it to chronicle the obstacles they must overcome to get to safety.
The Night Diary is a young adult book but there is nothing childish about it. Author Veera Hiranandani uses Nisha’s voice to get to the heart of a very adult subject—another shameful episode in British colonialism that I knew very little about. The partition of India was a last-minute decision, made as Britain was preparing to pull out all its military forces, leaving the country and its religious factions in disarray and with no mechanisms in place to handle the resulting violence. Suddenly, children like Nisha find their families split, their friends are enemies, their hometown is gone, and all for no reason that makes sense.
Politics and religion are at the center of The Night Diary, but it is Nisha’s story that holds the novel together. She is a sheltered little girl who barely speaks and can only share her feelings in letters to her dead mother when it begins. And while the months on the road, with its unremitting fear and deprivation, are painful and confusing, they also show her that what she thought to be weaknesses within herself can also be a source of strength and resilience.
An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.