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Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Independence: A Novel by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (Reviewed by Shazzie)


Buy Independence here

Official Author Website

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: India, 1947. In a rural village in Bengal live three sisters, daughters of a well-respected doctor.

Priya: intelligent and idealistic, resolved to follow in her father's footsteps and become a doctor, though society frowns on it.

Deepa: the beauty, determined to make a marriage that will bring her family joy and status.

Jamini: devout, sharp-eyed, and a talented quiltmaker, with deeper passions than she reveals.

Theirs is a home of love and safety, a refuge from the violent events taking shape in the nation. Then their father is killed during a riot, and even their neighbors turn against them, bringing the events of their country closer to home.

As Priya determinedly pursues her career goal, Deepa falls deeply in love with a Muslim, causing her to break with her family. And Jamini attempts to hold her family together, even as she secretly longs for her sister's fiancé.

When the partition of India is officially decided, a drastic--and dangerous--change is in the air. India is now for Hindus, Pakistan for Muslims. The sisters find themselves separated from one another, each on different paths. They fear for what will happen to not just themselves, but each other.

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFO: Chitra Divakaruni is an award-winning writer, activist and teacher, and the author of 21 books such as Mistress of Spices, Sister of My Heart, Before We Visit the Goddess, Palace of IllusionsThe Forest of Enchantments, and The Last Queen.  Her newest novel, Independence, depicts the experiences of three sisters in strife-torn Calcutta as India frees itself from the British yoke. She writes for adults and children. Read more here.

FORMAT/INFO: Independence was published on January 17, 2023 by William Morrow in the U.S. and by Harper Collins India in India. It contains 288 pages and is available in hardcover, kindle and audio formats.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: This isn't my first foray into Chitra Divakaruni's work. I first read The Palace of Illusions, a retelling of the Indian epic Mahabharata, from the point of view of the character Draupadi. It was such an impressive book that I then resolved to read all her future work.

I didn't doubt her craftsmanship, but I wasn't sure if she could make a historical fiction tale as compelling. It took me a while to settle into this book for reasons I will touch on later, but once I did, I couldn't get enough. I read this book when I was on vacation, but this was written so well that it became top priority.

"Can you cut up a country as though it were a cake?"

There are tons of literary works that tell stories set in the time of the Indian independence, and it would be natural for a reader to ask "What's different here?". While the majority of stories set in this time period would be set around Western India/Eastern Pakistan, this takes place in the other side of the country that was as affected by the partition of India and Pakistan, and quite a significant part of it takes place in current day Bangladesh, which was a part of Pakistan back in the day.

It follows the story of three sisters of very different nature, daughters of a poor, respected doctor in eastern India. They all have temparaments of varying practicalities, and see value in different things. Priya, Jamini and Deepa have their own dreams, and it's clear that they are envious of each other for different reasons. They head to Kolkata with their parents and family friend Amit, and things take a bad turn on Direct Action day (or the Calcutta killings, as its also known). 

Every big change in the sister's (and Amit's) lives that occurs is a mixture of their choices, and are embedded in real historical events that occurred leading upto, as well as the years after India and Pakistans independence. The author does not set us up to side with anybody, or any religious community, but simply states all the distressing experiences in third person through their points of view, thus painting a picture of the troubles faced by the common person in the affected regions in those times. A lot of the communal violence that is depicted in the book isn't unheard of, and they will likely give readers who are unfamiliar with these events a better idea of the terrible post-colonial scars that either country might carry in present day in a very accessible manner, and it might even serve to give them a better understanding of the sentimental divide in the Indian subcontinent.

It still took quite a bit of time to get settled in the story because of the narrative style, which despite being in the third person, lacked some punctuation. However, once I get comfortable with this, the pages flew smoothly, and in no time, I was at the end of this very touching tale.

CONCLUSION: I encourage all readers to pick up this book. It is easy to read, highly accessible, and unputdownable. Written with real historical events around the year 1947 as the backdrop for a very touching story of sisterhood, and love that sometimes comes with conditions, and otherwise surpasses everything else, it is sure to bring tears to your eyes.



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