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MARCH Dotters Daughters Pick

 

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

Veera Hiranandani’s The Night Diary tells the story of two children navigating sweeping societal and cultural change: India’s independence and Partition in the summer of 1947. Nisha, a quiet and intelligent twin, is given a diary for her twelfth birthday and uses it to write letters to her mother, who died during childbirth. Nisha’s brother, Amil, could not be more different than her; he is outgoing and playful, loves to draw, and does not enjoy school as he suffers from undiagnosed dyslexia. Nisha almost never speaks, except to Amil and Kazi, their Muslim cook. She loves to help him in the kitchen, and despite her father’s protestations, it is clear that she feels most at peace when she is sorting lentils, grinding spices, and imagining recipes to try with Kazi.

(Mango, coriander and cumin seeds, and cardamom pods ready to be toasted and ground)

Nisha’s family is in a unique position. Their mother was Muslim and her father is Hindu. As India violently divides itself into India and Pakistan, Nisha tries to understand who she is and what it means to have a divided cultural heritage, all the while being forced to stop attending school and leave her home in fear of violence. Her family lives in Mirpur Khas, an area that will become Pakistan. She and her family are considered Hindu, so they must leave for the new India. Before they leave, Nisha’s father decides to throw a party, inviting all their friends, whether Hindu or Muslim. They eat chapati, dal, chutney, mutton biryani, samosas, pakoras, sai bhaji, and gulab jamon, all of Nisha’s favorite foods. She savors each bite and cherishes the moments she spends with her friends, recognizing that love of food unites all people, no matter their religion.

 

(Left: Chapati and Mango Chutney - Right: Red Lentil Dal)

And so, while Nisha struggles to find her voice, she uses food to communicate her love for the people around her, and for the shifting boundaries of the country she calls home. She doesn’t understand why a label that never mattered before is now violently dividing her family and friends, but she is determined to survive in the face of intense hardship, refusing to deny the love she feels for others.

The Night Diary beautifully tells the story of a child trying to understand who she is and what she believes. Throughout the book, Nisha begins to accept her differences from Amil as natural and lovely, just as we all need to do for our fellow humans.

Her love for cooking is inspiring; it demonstrates a connection to the earth and a desire to nourish the people around her. I found myself craving all of the delicious ingredients she describes. I decided to make a few of the recipes included in the book. I had never ground spices from seed or made fry breads on the stove. I was led to learn about the vast difference between curry powder and curry leaves (they are not remotely related) and the inaccurate definition of “curry “ itself as propagated by British colonialists. I felt all of the emotions Nisha writes about in her diary. Peace, contentment, accomplishment. It felt so wonderful to share these foods with my family, and we’ve already made plans to share them with friends. Food is a language all its own, and it was wonderful to be reminded of the love and joy it expresses.

Thanks for visiting Dotters Books on this blog tour! We're honored to be included among these fantastic blogs:
WEEK ONE
3/6 – Gladiator Glory – Review + Book Photo + Playlist
3/7 – Utopia State of Mind – Review + Q&A
3/8 – Kid Lit Exchange – Review
3/9 – Quartz Feathers – Review
 
WEEK TWO
3/13 – Dotters Picks Blog – Creative: Food
3/14 – Cracking the Cover – Review
3/15 – The Book Shire – Book Club Menu
3/16 – Folded Pages Distillery – Review
 
WEEK THREE
3/20 – Xpresso Reads – Personal Piece
3/21 – Lo’s Lo-Down on Books – Review
3/22 – Bookish Realm Reviews – Review
AUTHOR BIO:
Veera Hiranandani earned her MFA in creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College. She is the author of The Whole Story of Half a Girl, which was named a Sydney Taylor Notable Book and a South Asian Book Award Finalist. A former book editor, she now teaches creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College's Writing Institute and Writopia Lab.