Book Review: 'Partitions'

The novel Partitions by Amit Majmudar is set in the chaotic period when the newly independent India is rent into two countries, India and Pakistan — one Hindu-dominated the other Muslim.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Now, a new novel which takes as its backdrop the partition of India. In 1947, the modern-day India and Pakistan were born. "Partitions" by Amit Majmudar, explores the tumultuous time when that happened.

Alan Cheuse has our review.

ALAN CHEUSE: The metaphor suggested by the title, "Partitions," produces quite a lot of ironic juxtapositions of characters and states of mind and body; India, Pakistan, Hindu, Muslim; the young and the old, the good and the venal; families and solitude; the living and the dead.

The narrator, a Hindu pulmonologist, has died of a bad heart just before he begins telling the story. In the tumultuous world of the partition, he can make no more than a blur or a breeze in the face of the living, but he still tries desperately to guard the lives of his two young sons. One of them also has a heart problem. Both brothers are separated from their mother, as they cross from Pakistan into India. While another physician, an elderly Muslim doctor, carrying only his black bag and a heavy heart, walks from India toward the new border with Pakistan.

The crowds among whom these travelers move number in the millions. The writer chooses the lyric path rather than the epic path way. He switches back and forth in short takes about the boys' struggle to rejoin their mother in their journey, about the vile actions of a trio of human traffickers, about the Muslim doctor's dangerous pilgrimage.

Rather than producing a sweeping narrative about the partition, this adds up to a narrowly focused book that generates deep emotion about the difficulties of a small group of characters over a brief period of time. At one point in the story, Dr. Masud meets up with the sons of the ghostly narrator and leans down to listen to the chest of the boy with the heart problem. So close to the boy's heart, he thinks, just an inch, but unreachable.

This first-time novelist has helped us to travel that brief but crucial distance, from words on the page to dreams in our minds and hearts, and made this bitter, brutal time somehow reachable.

SIEGEL: The book is "Partitions" by Amit Mujmuday,

Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

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