WARREN, NJ – Watchung Hills Regional High School (WHRHS) English students and faculty were treated to meeting and hearing from Veera Hiranandani, author of last summer’s WHRHS School-wide Read, “The Night Diary,” on Tuesday, Dec. 17, in the school’s South Auditorium.
In The Night Diary, Hiranandani provides readers a factually-based fictional exploration of the human toll experienced by everyone who lived through the partition in 1947 of India into two countries: One primarily Muslim, the new country of Pakistan, carved out of sections of old India; and India, a primarily Hindu country.
Attending the assembly were an interdisciplinary group of student classes, some English and some History. In the audience were students taught by WHRHS Teachers: Heather Farrington, AP Literature and Composition class, Eleventh Grade; Leigh Brodsky, English 1A class, Ninth Grade; Lexi Chiarulli, English 2A, Tenth Grade, and Kristen Keefe, English 1A, Ninth Grade; as well as Ken Karnas, World History H, Ninth Grade; Erin Hodge and World History A, Ninth Grade and Jamie Lovejoy and Patrick Ganley and World History CP, Ninth Grade.
WHRHS English Supervisor Jim Aquavia introduced Hiranandani.
The Night Diary is written in the voice of Nisha, age 12. She is the Night Diarist. She doesn't know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. Her father makes the painful decision that he and his family must flee in the face of the real dangers the partition poses. It is too dangerous to stay in their home, which is destined to switch from being India to what is Pakistan. The family are forced to become refugees, and travel, first by train but later on foot, to reach a new home in a section of India that will remain India, after the partition.
The controversial partition occurred at the official moment of what might have otherwise been a joyous occasion: When India was finally declared independent after 200 years of British rule. That push for independence was the subject of Academy Award Winning film, “Gandhi,” the 1983 historical epic. The movie won eight Academy Awards, including for Ben Kingsley, in the title role. The partition, which occurred at the moment that independence took effect, caused what is thought to have been the largest mass migration in human history, according to Hiranandani.
The partition also stimulated religious violence between folks in India who were Muslim and Hindu. Religious violence erupted between once peaceful neighbors. The partition was that much more relevant to many people of India, because like the family of the protagonist in The Night Diary, many households had both Hindu and Muslim immediate family members, distant family members, friends, bosses and co-workers, household staffs, shopkeepers and local favorite restauranteurs, classmates, neighbors, and more.
The novel is written as a diary kept before, during and after the partition. The diary was written from the tender, and naturally personal, perspective of a 12-year-old girl, Nisha. Her father is Hindu and her mother is Muslim, and her life, lifestyle, possessions, relatives, employees, practices, income level, relationships with friends, co-workers, and just about everyone and everything else is torn apart by the process.
The Night Diary’s story is about Nisha’s search for home, during a critical and vulnerable Coming of Age time of her life. Her sense of searching for a hopeful future hangs in the balance.
Appropriate for Children And Adults
The book is appropriate for both young adults and adults, taking advantage of the 12-year-old’s diary entries to make it accessible to younger readers. At the same time, for older youth and adult readers, its realistic portrayal of what being a refugee in her own homeland must feel like to a 12-year-old, engages most adult readers’ empathy, sympathy, and critical analysis of a piece of literature.
Perspective As A Writer
Hiranandani shared with the WHRHS audience the fact that, in addition to nearly a year of research, she then faced the typical subsequent rigorous and typical journey of as much as four more years engaged in multiple levels of editing drafts. She had to patiently and persistently coax the novel through critical edit processes at several typical stops along the way of publishing any book. Among the folks who had input in those editing processes included: A trusted mentors’ first readings; her agent’s critical reading for whether a publisher might be convinced to publish it; then her publisher’s editors’ critical reading; and even the book cover designer’s reading prior to creating the book’s artistic cover.
On top of all of that, Hiranandani, herself, could draw from a primary source in her own family.
Her father grew up and lived in India. He had personally lived through the 1947 partition of India. Likewise, she grew up in her loving Indian/Jewish family in Connecticut. In addition to her father, having grown up in India, and is Hindu, her mother, grew up in Jerusalem, Israel, and is Jewish.
However, even with that personal connection, she still felt compelled to do lengthy research. She knew deep down in her author’s sensibility, that she needed to get everything in her fictional depiction of the partition right. That meant she needed to not just draw from her father’s first-hand sharing, but also the first-hand account of others who experienced the partition. Plus, she wanted to do some scholarly, historic and journalistic research to find historical accounts of this very historical event.
Plus, she understood that she, herself, had her own first-hand experiences, of having grown up in a mixed-race, mixed-religion, and proudly ethnic-American family in the very “American” location, Connecticut.
And, Hiranandani brought her perspective of being an academic and a novelist. She earned her Master’s of Fine Arts degree in fiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, N.Y. She is a former book editor at Simon & Schuster. She now teaches creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College's Writing Institute and is working on her next novel.
She is also the author of: “The Whole Story of Half a Girl,” (2012), a children’s middle grades book, which was named a Sydney Taylor Notable Book and a South Asia Book Award Highly Commended selection; the chapter book four-part series, “Phoebe G. Green,” (2014 and 2015); and “Olivia” (2010-2011), a two-book “Ready to Read” series, “Olivia and Her Ducklings,” and “Olivia Plants A Garden”
The Night Diary has received numerous awards since its publication in 2018 by Penguin Books. It has received the 2019 Newbery Honor Award, the 2019 Walter Dean Myers Honor Award, and the 2018 Malka Penn Award for Human Rights in Children's Literature, according Aquavia who introduced Hiranandani to the audience of students and teachers in the South Auditorium
“’The Night Diary’ has been featured on National Public Radio's Weekend Edition, and is a New York Times Editor's Choice Pick. It was chosen as a 2018 Best Children's Book of the Year by The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, Amazon, School Library Journal, and Kirkus Reviews,” Aquavia said.