Some books are so meaningful and inspiring that you are grateful they were written. The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani is one such book. It is a historical fiction written in journal-style format set in 1947 when India and Pakistan became independent from British rule and separated into two countries. Even though the book is in the context of the partition of India and Pakistan, it is relevant today as millions of families around the world become refugees because of war, conflict, oppressive governments, and climate change. Through the eyes of one twelve year old girl, I got a glimpse into the feelings of children who are forced to leave their homes and loved ones, make long, treacherous journeys, and find a place where they are welcome. For this, I am grateful.
Before The Night Diary, I had not read a book in which the story takes place in India and is about an Indian girl like me. Culturally diverse books are so rare, even though we live in multi-cultural society. This book connected me to my heritage. The food, community, songs, culture, and turns of language, all gave me a strong sense of belonging. For this, I am grateful.
After reading this book, I learned that some of my family members lived through the horrific partition of India and Pakistan. My dadi (paternal grandmother) was born in present-day Pakistan and traveled to India as an infant with her older brother and parents during the partition. I wish I could learn more about their stories, but no one who could remember is alive now. The Night Diary shows what the feelings of many people would have been during that time. For this, I am grateful.
This book is Nisha’s inner dialogue during her arduous and dangerous journey as a refugee from Pakistan to India. She writes to her deceased mother in a dairy gifted to her on her 12th birthday, who she misses now more than ever. As a girl who is both Hindu and Muslim, living through a partition based on religion, Nisha is struggling to make sense of the world around her. She cannot understand how people can hate each other so much because of the religion they follow. Pakistan and India are both part of her being. If Pakistan and India are divided, then she is torn apart too. The letters to her mama allow her to release her trapped feelings of fear and the pain of leaving loved ones. Through the process of expressing her feelings through written words to her mother who she has never known, she can understand her feelings and hope for a better future.
This book is full of metaphors. Nisha’s body symbolizes the two countries. The home she is leaving behind symbolizes her mother. The diary symbolizes hope. It shows us that we can’t run away from our feelings, but should try to understand them and focus on the road ahead. I marvel at the way the author is able to feel the feelings of a twelve year old girl in a different context and time and make me feel the same feelings. Makes me want to write a book just like this one. To all children reading this review: Read this book! It will teach you something about the broader world beyond the borders your own community. It will make you aware of the experiences of refugees. It will teach you why it is important to welcome people seeking help in your homeland. It will inspire you to stand up against bigotry and work toward change.
The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani. Puffin Books, 2019. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!