Tuesday, October 03, 2023

Five top books about India’s 1947 Partition

Shilpi Suneja is the author of House of Caravans. Born in India, her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and published in Guernica, McSweeney’s, Cognoscenti, and the Michigan Quarterly Review. Her writing has been supported by a National Endowment for the Arts literature fellowship, a Massachusetts Cultural Council fellowship, a Grub Street Novel Incubator Scholarship, and she was the Desai fellow at the Jack Jones Literary Arts Retreat. She holds an MA in English from New York Universityand an MFA in creative writing from Boston University, where she was awarded the Saul Bellow Prize.

At Lit Hub Suneja tagged five books to help with our "understanding of [the Indian] Partition [of 1947]—as a trauma narrative, and as a living thing regenerating itself over and over with each generation." One title on the list:
Yasmin Khan, The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan

Khan has an engaging way of writing history, and this book causes your jaw to drop several times. Here’s the opening, for example: “South Asians learned that the British Indian empire would be partitioned on 3 June 1947” (a mere two months before Independence!) And another: “They heard about it on the radio, from relations and friends, by reading newspaper and, later, through government pamphlets.” And another: “perhaps hundreds of thousands, didn’t hear the news for many weeks.”

Khan offers a comprehensive overview of the incidents preceding and following the decision to divide the lands, folding in the insouciance, inefficacy, intractability, and haphazardness of the leaders and the crisis upon crisis that the millions were subjected to from moment to moment. The minutia of details she has assembled are astounding: the caravans of millions on foot and what they carried, the state of the refugee camps on both sides of the border and their rations. Khan also analyzes what Partition means to the subcontinent now, and how its legacy continues to fire up right-wing ideologies on both sides of the border.
Read about another entry on the list.

Also see Anjali Enjeti's seven books about the Partition of India & Pakistan.

--Marshal Zeringue