30 January 2014

Review: WITNESS THE NIGHT, Kishwar Desai

  • Format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 378 KB
  • Print Length: 171 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (May 24, 2012)
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B006YDG16Y
  • Source: I bought it
Synopsis (Amazon)

In a small town in the heart of India, a young girl, barely alive, is found in a sprawling house where thirteen people lie dead. The girl has been beaten and abused, and the house still smoulders from the fire that raked through it.
The girl now awaits her trial for the murders that the local police believe she has committed. But an unconventional social worker, Simran Singh, is convinced of her innocence. As Simran begins to examine the circumstances around the case, she encounters a terrifying web of prejudice and deceit in which lives of women are endangered from birth.
Brilliantly descriptive of tradition-bound Punjab, Kishwar Desai's debut novel introduces the feisty and independent Simran, whose determination to seek out the truth places her at odds with her environment. What she discovers will change her forever.

My take

There are two main narrators in this story with occasional interjection, mainly by email, of a third.

The first narrator is Durga herself, the sole survivor of whatever killed her parents and eleven other household members. Fourteen years old, she is keeping a diary, in which she first of all alludes to the events of the night, and then reflects on the events of her life as a girl in the Punjab. From her diary which she is actually writing for Simran the reader is able to piece together what has happened.

The second narrator is Simran, the social worker, employed by the authorities to get Durga to talk, and primarily to get a verbal confession from her that she was solely responsible for the massacre of the family. Simran is in her early 40s and through her we get the description of the social problems in modern Punjab. Simran left the small town of Jullundur in disgrace twenty years before. This is the first time she has returned and she doesn't think things have changed all that much. She thinks this will be  her first and last case.

Simran finds it very difficult to get others to talk about the family and Durga. She tries family friends and Durga's sister in law in London. Binny is the third main voice, mainly by email, and even she tells Simran there are questions she must ask others, and things it will not be helpful for her to know.

Crimes are committed in this novel, and certainly it starts with the massacre of an entire Sikh family, but the background is the traditional treatment of unwanted female babies and girl children.

At the end of the novel the author says that while the characters of her debut novel are fictitious, the events are not. She pays tribute to her father, a policeman, whom she says is possibly one of the few incorruptible police officers in northern India.

I am in listing this novel in the 2014 Global Reading Challenge in the category of Asia (India).

My rating: 4.4

1 comment:

Margot Kinberg said...

Kerrie - I am very glad you liked this book. I found it compelling and like you, I felt that it does an especially effective job of conveying the lifestyle and attitudes of the area.

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