Saturday, December 29, 2007

BOOKS: A superb debut novel ...

Neelam Maharaj lives in Melbourne. She has just had Surviving Heroes, her debut novel, published by Bystander Press. I’ve reviewed it in The Australian today.

Unfortunately, word count restrictions didn’t allow me to do justice to this extremely moving and powerful story of how the last days of British colonialism, the Second World War and then the Partition all touched the lives of one Indian family.

When we think of WWII and the fight against fascism, we remember the ANZAC’s, the Americans, the French Resistance, etc. We rarely think of those young men from Europe’s colonial possessions who fought and died.

Perhaps the most surprising conclusion the characters in Maharaj’s novel reach is that the horrors of Partition were worse, much worse, than the atrocities committed by the Japanese in Singapore. I've heard Partition stories many times from South Asian uncles and aunts. But Maharaj's characters give us a glimpse of the true horrors of Partition and how innocent people could so easily become caught in the growing vortext of sectarian violence.

(One can only imagine how these characters would respond to religious extremism that threatens to conquer both India (in the form of the Hindu far-Right) and Pakistan (in the form of Muslim militancy).)

Do yourself a favour. Go out and buy this novel. It will give you a better understanding of South Asian culture, history and political sentiment than reading 100 articles or columns by so-called experts and pundits.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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