Monday, April 25, 2011

A Beautiful Lie

Guest Review by Jyoti Minocha
Publisher: Bloomsbury Paperbacks
Age: Young Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction (Partition)

Irfan Master’s book, ‘A Beautiful Lie’, is a small but meaningful vignette that portrays the impact of the Partition of India and Pakistan on a small Indian village, and on some of its youngest residents. In this compact tale, that collapses time to a few weeks before the declaration of a separate India, Bilal is a thirteen year old boy trying to protect his dying father from hearing news that he is sure will hasten his demise---the fact that India will be divided to create Pakistan. Although we only have Bilal’s eyes through which to view all the momentous changes taking place in this relatively obscure village, Mr. Master stretches the fabric of his story with such a wealth of detail, that the reader gets a comprehensive look at the social dynamics of a community poised on the brink of violent upheaval.

The book starts with Bilal walking through the marketplace carrying a melon his father has sent him to buy. Mr. Master recreates the scene vividly and the reader can almost smell the fry cooks as they make giant pots of Dal and Rice, and see the garland stringers and their nimble hands as they fly through countless fragrant rose petals. This minuteness of detail is present throughout the book and enables the reader to savor the intensity of the moment.

The plot revolves around Bilal’s ingenuity in preventing the news of a divided India from reaching his father. He enlists the help of his friends in the process, swearing them to secrecy, but as the plot unravels we see that he is forced to involve more and more townspeople in this remarkably difficult enterprise. As Ms. Master fills in his canvas with more and more brushstrokes, the reader begins to understand that the real wealth of Bilal’s village lies in the non judgmental and supportive relationships residents have built over decades, perhaps centuries, with each other. The religious hatred spreading through the rest of the country has only just begun to penetrate here, in bits and pieces, and we can still see how easily people trusted and cared before the splintering began. Bilal’s personal project progresses hand in hand with increasing violence and intolerance; there are some gems of narration here, even if the suspense begins to flag in the second half of the book.

Ms. Master does a fine job of describing Bilal’s dilemma, and his emotional anguish, but the plot does tend to drag a bit, particularly towards the end. Perhaps its predictability weighs it down.

For those who have an interest in Partition stories, or wish to educate their children on this crucial time in Indian history, this book is a well-written, meaningful addition to their library.


Choxbox said...

Been seeing this book for a while now, sounds interesting.

Would you recommend this book for a 10-year old Jyoti?

Jyoti said...

It depends on how well the 10 year old is reading. I think 10 year olds can easily handle this book if they are reasonably good readers.

Jyoti said...

I wanted to add to my earlier comment about whether it's suitable for 10 year olds. Yes, it is very suitable---there is violence, but considering the amount of media exposure to violence an average 10 year old gets these days, its relatively mild. And its a great way of introducing an imp part of Indian history to children, particularly to the enormous difference between how 10 year olds lived in a small Indian village 60 years ago( and perhaps even today) and how they live today, in our modern times.

sandhya said...

Just finished reading this book. Yes, it is all that you have said, Jyoti, and more. As a bibliophile, I especially loved the way the writer has woven the love of books that Bilal and his father have, the way it permeates most of their thinking, and the way it makes them valued peole in their small village. Also loved the sensitivity with which the friendship between the boys, obviously with different religious identities, is potrayed.
I would want to differ a bit on the aspect of age, Chox and Jyoti. There is a lot of description of violence in the book, well potrayed. However, there is one instance that is potrayed, when Bilal is cornered- that is too graphically described- quite horrifying- for my comfort level for a 10 yr old.

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