Where the River Parts - Radhika Swarup

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Where the River Parts - Radhika Swarup

Post by Graham on Sun Feb 18, 2018 7:06 pm

Swarup’s story begins in the Punjab on the eve of partition in 1947 with love across the religious divide. Asha falls for Firoze, the young lawyer living next door with his Muslim family. Her father rejects the young man’s suit just before the violence forces her family to flee. We follow her through love and loss to a life of compromise, married to the kind but homely Om in Delhi. In the final section of the book we are fast-forwarded to New York where two generations later her granddaughter Lana faces the same choices and similar opposition from Priya her mother.

Known only to Asha and her young Muslim servant Priya is not Asha’s daughter.

The book is strongest on the turmoil of emotion wrought in the women caught up by these secret histories. Where it has faults it is in a degree of coyness that makes the horrors of partition little more than a shadowy backdrop. Similarly, the teenage Asha becomes pregnant with Firoze’s child without apparently having had sex. Allied to this is a sense that the men in the story are just playing bit parts. Even the central characters of Om and Firoze are cardboard cut-outs compared to the women.

Conveniently most of the men die in a single sentence at the start of the third section. After this, however the power of Swaup’s writing comes into its own. It had me frequently in tears, especially with the reappearance of Firoze. Come on, you knew it had to happen. The ending however may leave you unsatisfied. Perhaps it is Swarup’s way of saying the intolerance and horrors of the past are not yet healed.

I recommend it as a love story and a weepie but don’t read it for an exciting or even informative tale of partition in India.

Graham
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