Book Review: ‘Independence’ by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

A Gripping Tale of Love, Sacrifice, and Resilience Amidst India's Turbulent Partition


Book Title: Independence
Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Number of Pages: 350
ISBN: 978-9356294585
Date Published: Nov. 30, 2022
Price: INR 340

Independence by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni Book Cover

Book Review

Women in literature have long been confined to limited roles, depicted simplistically as homemakers or disruptors, often reduced to mere plot devices. A shift is occurring with female authors sharing authentic stories. Unfortunately, advocating for women’s empowerment is met with unjust ‘feminazi’ labels. Among this, resilient figures emerge as accurate “writers” chronicling women’s lives. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni challenges one-dimensional portrayals, delving into intricate female experiences. Her work navigates the complexities faced by diasporic women uprooted from their homelands.

Independence” by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is a novel that unfolds inside a calm rural Bengal hamlet against the backdrop of India’s violent partition, following the connected destiny of three sisters – Priya, Deepa, and Jamini – born to the revered village physician, Nabhkumar. Deepa, the oldest and most beautiful, wishes to improve her family’s fortunes by obtaining a promising marriage. Jamini, the family’s meticulous perfectionist, flourishes in the shadows, sewing quilts with her mother to supplement their income, her ardent wants frequently concealed. Meanwhile, despite cultural opposition to women in medicine, the youngest, incredibly bright Priya seeks to follow in her father’s respected footsteps.

Their peaceful lives are shattered when their father is killed in a riot, isolating and abandoning them even by their neighbors. The sisters’ lives are irreversibly altered as they are pushed into a nightmare world, echoing the nation’s anguish. Priya follows her father’s legacy tenaciously, channeling her energy into tough work. Deepa’s forbidden love for Raza, a Muslim guy, causes familial alienation as upheaval shakes the country. Throughout this turmoil, Jamini remains alone, firmly protecting her family but secretly harboring feelings for her sister’s fiance.

On a larger scale, the separation takes shape as India and Pakistan emerge, fueled by religious divides. Fate pulls the sisters in opposite directions, splintering their once-cohesive family into separate trajectories, their paths unknown. The sisters’ togetherness is hanging by a thread as the country struggles with transformation. When one of the sisters is in danger, will the others help her, and if so, at what cost? The sisters’ eventual reunion teeters on the brink of disaster, ready to reveal the depth of their relationship among history’s stormy currents.

Independence” is a masterfully developed story that skillfully weaves the three sisters’ contrasting points of view. Author Chitra’s writing has an alluring appeal that draws readers into each scene and conjures up rich imagery that takes them to the heart of the narrative. Her skill as a storyteller is apparent; readers are enthralled from page one and find it difficult to put the book down. The historical backdrop is expertly intertwined with the fictitious plot, ensuring a careful balance that keeps readers engaged while offering light on major historical events. The use of small poems in Bengali that have been translated into English successfully portrays the emotional undercurrents.

A feat of a narrative is each sister’s portrayal. Their distinct identities have been painstakingly crafted, displaying nuanced richness that makes reading incredibly engaging. Despite the sisters’ sometimes extreme and heartless actions, the reader empathizes with each sister at various points in the narrative. The superb etching of the tapestry of feelings—despair, agony, hope, and love—leaves an indelible impression long beyond the last page. The Indian publication by Harper Collins has a serene white cover with certain elements that depict Bengal and its heritage. The Kanta threadwork, the boat, the fish, and the Ashoka Chakra complement the story.

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While the book’s precise pace aids in a complete grasp of the historical context, the climax could have benefitted from a more detailed treatment, extending the suspense and resolve. Some incidents looked to be significantly overblown, probably to appeal to Western sensibilities, which occasionally removed the tale from the proper Indian perspective. Nonetheless, “Independence” excels as a source of storytelling and amusement. I wholeheartedly recommend it to anybody interested in Indian storytelling set against the backdrop of India’s division.

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