The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Published: March 6th, 2018
Publisher: Dial Books
Recommended Age: 10+
Genres & Themes: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction, Journey, Family, Siblings
It’s 1947, and India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created much tension between Hindus and Muslims, and hundreds of thousands are killed crossing borders. Half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old Nisha doesn’t know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. When Papa decides it’s too dangerous to stay in what is now Pakistan, Nisha and her family become refugees and embark first by train but later on foot to reach her new home. The journey is long, difficult, and dangerous, and after losing her mother as a baby, Nisha can’t imagine losing her homeland, too. But even if her country has been ripped apart, Nisha still believes in the possibility of putting herself back together.
There are two reasons that I can think of right now of why Historical Fiction novels are as valuable as History courses, if not more.
Because unless you’re a university student who takes very specific History courses with the subjects that you really want to learn about, chances are your high school History professors will focus on European and American History. That’s from my Canadian perspective, anyways.
The other reason is that while History courses usually cover a topic and make you learn all the ‘‘important’’ facts and dates – which, personally, I forget almost immediately after graduating the course – professors frequently talk about historical events matter-of-factly and rarely make you FEEL what the population who, for instance, survived WWII FELT.
And this comes from someone who used to avoid Historical Fiction. Like any other genre, it can be boring if explored poorly or burdened with unnecessary description.
I like books – from almost any genre – that make it possible for you to visualize scenes in your head and that leave an impression, not just a mental one but an emotional one, too. I like books that are emotionally affective because, in twenty years, I will probably forget most of what happened in those books, but I will never forget how I felt reading them. And isolating those feelings will lead me to remembering what triggered them in the first place.
This book is one of those books that make you FEEL. The writing is lyrical, the topic important, relevant, and especially realistic. It’s also written in diary entries and, as someone who cannot keep a diary for longer than two weeks, this novel format fascinates me.
I not only thoroughly enjoyed myself while reading this book, but I also learned from it. No one ever told me Pakistan and India were once the same country. Either my History professors assumed that was common knowledge, even for a tween/teen, or they didn’t bother mentioning it because it didn’t fit with their course outlines.
My point is, History courses do teach you a lot, but sometimes it’s better to learn on your own, notably when you want to gain knowledge on a very specific subject and FEEL more than absorb descriptions, and fictional stories can be a great way to do that. The Night Diary is a great way to do that.
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Great review! I definitely agree, historical fiction gives black and white facts color and shape.