"...it's the people that matter."
Partitions by Amit Majmudar
1947 was a turbulent time for Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus in India--the summer of Partition when Pakistan split away and one country divided into two. It is into this maelstrom that Majmudar sets his characters: Sonia and her twin boys, Shankar and Keshav, whose Brahmin-born father, though dead, still watches over them; Simran Kaur, a young Sikh girl whose own father would rather see her dead than defiled; and Ibrahim Masud, an elderly Muslim doctor whose compassion sees only wounds to heal, not ethnicities or creeds.
Living in Lahore, Sonia knows she and her young sons "have to leave. This is Pakistan now. The land meant to be pak, pure. Pure of them." But at the crowded train station, Shankar and Keshav get separated from her and must head east into India on their own.
In the Punjab, Masud watches his neighborhood as it burns and realizes "he isn't Ibrahim Masud to anyone but himself now. His profession, too, means nothing. Muslim: that's suddenly the defining thing about him ... The official line is that he can stay if he wants or leave for Pakistan. His choice--stay here in India or shift west. Just over there. Like crossing the aisle on a bus."
And then there's Simran, who refuses to drink the poisoned milk her father prepares for her and the rest of her family, and who must flee her own home in order to stay alive. But once on her own, navigating the refugee-filled roads and trying to avoid the men who would use her, or sell her, she begins to rethink her decision.
I loved these characters, especially Dr. Masud and his stammering gentleness who "knows that caregiving is neither Muslim, nor Sikh, nor Hindu. Or rather it is all three of these." And I loved Majmudar's unconventional narrator--the spirit of the twins' dead father--who knows what's ahead for his sons and for Simran and Masud, and who watches over all of them until their journeys finally intersect. I also loved Majmudar's lyrical prose. And how much I learned reading this book about Partition and the violence that ensued on both sides during it. And to think, I almost didn't check this book out of the library; I would have missed out on so much if I'd left it sitting on the M shelf. I'm so glad I didn't. Because this book is amazing!
Here are just two of my favorite quotes from Amit Majmudar's Partitions:
How little we knew each other, though for centuries our homes had shared walls. How little we will learn, now that all we share is a border.
If there is one thing dangerously abundant right now, it is certainty. Certainty makes possible in men the most extreme good and the most extreme evil. A land like the Punjab, five rivers and three faiths, could do with a little less certainty.