Nisha and Amil are turning twelve. The twelfth year without their mother. She died giving birth to them. So Nisha has no memory of her – only what she has gleaned from her reticent father over the years, and stories that come out once in a while from their cook, Kazi, who was working for her parents when they were born. The year is 1947, and for Nisha the only big thing happening is she is getting older. But the world around them has other plans. Nisha lives in India and the British are about to turn over the country to the people for them to govern themselves after years of being under colonial control. What Nisha doesn’t realize is that this means her entire life is about to change.
Many different religious groups made up India in 1947 (and today), including three large ones – Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs. Nisha’s mother was muslim and her father is Hindu, and they had what was called a mixed marriage. However, the politicians have decided that the new India will actually be split into two countries. Nisha’s family, because her father is Hindu, now find themselves living in what will become the Muslim state of Pakistan. Nisha wonders why they can’t just stay where they are. Who cares if their father is Hindu? He’s a respected doctor in the town and they have friends who are Muslim, including their own dear Kazi. And doesn’t the fact that their mother was Muslim make them part Muslim too? It is all very confusing to Nisha. But then acts of violence start being reported between Muslims and Hindus and their father decides they can no longer stay. Secretly they begin planning to leave and head south.
Nisha has no idea the struggles that lie ahead as she and her father, brother and grandmother head off to begin their long and arduous journey to a new home. The walk is filled with danger along the way and the likelihood of all of them surviving the trek becomes slim.
The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani is a quick and powerful tale of a young girl, still struggling with the loss of her mother, and trying to understand the new world she finds herself growing up in. This book sheds light on a little discussed and told part in world history when millions of people essentially packed up and moved to another place. It is the largest mass migration in history to date with around 14 million people making this journey – either into India or into Pakistan. Close to 1 million people died during this turbulent time.
Highly recommended for 7th grade and up.