Posts Tagged historical fiction

South Asian Historical Fiction – Author Interview with Veera Hiranandani, and Giveaway

Historical fiction makes readers feel connected to people and settings from the past. Growing up in India, the time of the Indian subcontinent’s freedom movement, division, and independence was pretty significant in my student life. The heroic stories of the survivors were part of my history lessons. I remember dressing up like freedom fighters for costume shows in cultural events at school. I imagined – through the stories I read – how the experience would affect a child who lived that life.

The Partition of India was the division of British India in 1947 that resulted in the creation of two independent countries – India and Pakistan. It was one of the most important historical moments of South Asia.  More than 14 million people were displaced between the two countries, and nearly two million of them were killed.

I’m thrilled that Veera Hiranandani gave a voice to the children who experienced the life-changing experience in 1947, through her novel, THE NIGHT DIARY.

            

In this post, author Veera Hiranandani shares her experience of writing THE NIGHT DIARY, a poignant, personal, and hopeful story of India’s partition, and of one girl’s journey to find a new home in a divided country.

The book is called “THE NIGHT DIARY.” Explain what that is. Where did this story begin for you?

THE NIGHT DIARY is a fictional diary, where twelve-year old Nisha writes to her deceased mother about her experiences during the Partition of India in 1947. In some ways, the story began when I was a child, because I grew up hearing about partition from my father. My father was nine when he and his family had to leave his home in Mirpur Khas, Pakistan and travel over the new border of India into Jodhphur. I would hear parts of the story, but I knew they weren’t telling me everything. This ignited my curiosity and when I got older, I started asking more questions and researching on my own. As I learned more about it, I was shocked at the amount of violence and upheaval millions of people experienced. I didn’t know I would grow up to be a writer, but when I did, I knew I had to try and shape a story around this piece of history.

So take us to the year of 1947. We know that more than a million people were killed and many millions displaced by India’s partition. Are there any true stories that moved you to write this book? If so, how did you go about translating the true shocking experiences so that it made sense to young readers?

Several weeks after India’s independence and the partitioning of India into two countries, India and Pakistan, my father’s family decided they had to leave their home as the unrest around them grew closer. They packed a few bags, got on a train, and left everything behind. They arrived over the border safely, but lost their home, their friends, their community. They were considered lucky.

As a young girl living growing up in Connecticut, my life seemed pretty secure, and the thought of losing everything so quickly was hard to imagine, but my father felt the same way about his life in Mirpur Khas. He lived on a large piece of property with his parents, brothers and sisters. His father was the head doctor at the Mirpur Khas hospital. They were involved and connected to their community. Yet, things changed overnight for my father’s family as it does for Nisha in the book. How could a peaceful community completely change in a matter of weeks? How does violence and hate spread so quickly? These are the main questions I had about partition that I tried to explore in the book.

My father’s family made it safely, but many others did not. Many lost their lives. I wanted to express these questions honestly and innocently, the way a young person would, yet I needed to communicate the realities of the fear, violence, and divisiveness without making it too difficult for young readers. It was a tricky balance to maintain.

In the novel, the main character is twelve-year-old Nisha who doesn’t know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. She embarks on a long journey after leaving her home and faces huge challenges in the midst of the Partition of India. What type of research did you have to do to write Nisha’s story?

I had many discussions with my father. I talked to some additional family members, but sadly my grandparents and his older siblings, my three uncles, and aunt, aren’t living anymore.  I also read historical accounts, both political and personal, and watched several documentaries and fictional films on the subject to try to understand several perspectives. Though I was interested in the factual and political history, what I was most interested in was how an ordinary person, and particularly a young person, might have felt during this time, so I read as many personal survivor testimonies as I could.

I also wanted Nisha to be forced to confront her identity and sense of belonging in a more direct way than my father had to. I wanted her travel in the direction that a Hindu family would travel during that time, from Pakistan to India, because that’s the journey my father’s family took, and the one I was most familiar with. But I chose to make her mother Muslim, so when her country is split apart and Hindus and other religious groups such as Sikhs, are supposed to go in one direction and Muslims are supposed to go in another, she has to wonder, in a very personal way, where she belongs. I also come from a mixed background. My father is Hindu and grew up in India. My mother is Jewish and grew up in New York. I’ve had to question my sense of belonging my whole life, though the stakes are much higher for Nisha.

There is this kind of revolutionary spirit sweeping through the country. You tell a fascinating story about how Nisha believes in the possibility of putting her life back together during trying times. Why were you drawn to the time period of 1940s in the story, and how do you think the Partition story is relevant for kids in the present day?

First and foremost, I needed to understand what my father’s family went through, and honor not only their experience, but the millions who were affected by partition. I wanted to tell a partition story for young people who are connected to this history, to see a story about their family’s past. I also wanted to share it with those who don’t know anything about it. There’s so much we can learn from it.

I didn’t quite realize when I started writing about a refugee family traveling in dangerous, divisive times how relevant it would be to the present day global refugee crisis and the divisiveness and xenophobia growing louder in this country. I see many young people all around the world, discovering the strength and a voice they didn’t know they had like Nisha does.

How does Nisha come to terms with her haunting childhood memories and her new life as a refugee?

I think when one goes through such a life-altering crisis, it stays with you forever. You can never go back. You can only move forward through the altered space. Nisha will never be the same. My father also carries these memories with him and knows how fragile the world can be. I believe that understanding how quickly society can change for the worse, either makes a person fearful or more courageous. Imagining Nisha past this book, I think she chooses the later. She learns to rely on the strength of her own voice.

What do you want readers to take away from the book?

I think that Nisha doesn’t know how brave she is, but she finds the strength to keep that sense of hope as she writes in her diary at night and rises each morning to face her world and move forward. Even if one is not dealing with obstacles on the level that Nisha does in the book, we all have obstacles we face every day. I think to be brave enough to keep going, to stay hopeful, loving, and open-minded, is a courageous act. I see that energy all around me, especially in our younger generation, and it gives me a lot of hope.

For more about Veera and her work, visit her website. You can also connect with her on Twitter.

Thanks, Veera! 

Want to own your very own copy of The Night Diary? Enter our giveaway by leaving a comment below! 

You may earn extra entries by blogging/tweeting/facebooking the interview and letting us know. The winner will be announced here on April 21, 2018 and will be contacted  via email and asked to provide a mailing address (US/Canada only) to receive the book.

 

Interview and Giveaway with Author Varian Johnson

Varian Johnson is the author of several novels for children and young adults, including The Great Greene Heist, which was an ALA Notable Children’s Book, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2014, and a Texas Library Association Lone Star List selection, and To Catch a Cheat, another Jackson Greene adventure and a Kids’ Indie Next List pick. He lives with his family near Austin, Texas. You can find him on the web at www.varianjohnson.com and @varianjohnson.

Photo credit: Kenneth B. Gall

Varian’s newest book, The Parker Inheritance (Arthur A. Levine/ Scholastic) will come out next week, and has received starred reviews from School Library Journal, The Horn Book, and Kirkus, and is a Junior Library Guild Spring 2018 Selection.   

About the book:

“When Candice finds a letter in an old attic in Lambert, South Carolina, she isn’t sure she should read it. It’s addressed to her grandmother, who left the town in shame. But the letter describes a young woman. An injustice that happened decades ago. A mystery enfolding the letter-writer. And the fortune that awaits the person who solves the puzzle.

So with the help of Brandon Jones, the quiet boy across the street, she begins to decipher the clues. The challenge will lead them deep into Lambert’s history, full of ugly deeds, forgotten heroes, and one great love; and deeper into their own families, with their own unspoken secrets. Can they find the fortune and fulfill the letter’s promise before the answers slip into the past yet again?”

How does your engineering background inform your writing?

The Parker Inheritance was probably influenced by my engineering career more than any of my other books. There are a lot of math terms in the book, much of which I learned while getting my civil engineering degree. But there’s also a very big difference between designing bridges and writing books. And as much as I liked my engineering job, I’m very happy now be a full-time children’s book author.

 

The Parker Inheritance pays homage to the classic puzzle novel, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. (The Cooperative Children’s’ Book Center at UW-Madison has many of her notes and drafts archived here.) Can you tell us about your process for constructing the Parker puzzle(s) and deciding how the clues would reveal the answer?

The novel that would eventually become The Parker Inheritance started off as two separate novel ideas, with one being a puzzle mystery and the other being a historical multi-generational novel. I tinkered with both on and off for years, but neither idea was strong enough to stand alone. It wasn’t until rereading Holes that I got the idea to combine the ideas. The puzzle was pretty well developed when I began writing the book—and it was surprising how well the puzzle fit into the larger historical story. Even though I was consciously writing two books, maybe my subconscious always knew that the stories belonged together.

Like your Jackson Greene books, The Parker Inheritance involves complex details for the characters to put together, but in a sort of reverse way. Instead of building the details into a caper like “Gang Greene,” Candice and Brandon are breaking down a mystery by revealing the details. Did that difference influence your approach to the writing?

Oh, totally. Candice and Brandon’s strategies mirror the real-life sleuthing I did to create and “solve” the puzzle. I ran each of the web searches that they performed in order to see what popped up—to make sure that the answer to a clue wasn’t revealed too quickly. In many ways, it was easy to write about the techniques that Candice and Brandon used for deciphering the letter, as I had performed that very same research to write the book.

What made you decide to use flashbacks and multiple points of view to tell part of the story instead of sticking with Candice’s POV?

I thought it was important to see the lives of the people from the puzzle through their own eyes—not just Candice and Brandon’s viewpoints. I also thought it would be interesting to show how race relations have improved from the 1950s to today…and unfortunately to also show how race relations have stayed the same.

If there was one single thing that you wanted readers to get from The Parker Inheritance what would it be?

If anything, I want readers to think about the preferences and preconceptions that they bring into any interaction. I want readers to question what they believe when they see someone; when they speak with someone. I want reader to step past their internal biases in order to see the real person standing in front of them.

What other books do you recommend to readers who enjoyed The Parker Inheritance?

The Westing Game, obviously! But also The Watsons Go To Birmingham—1963, Holes, March Book 3, and When You Reach Me.

And now for the giveaway:

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Reading Roundup: Three Middle Grade Standouts

It’s hard to keep up with all the exciting new releases in middle grade fiction that have crossed my desk in the last few months. But there are three from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, I need to crow about. They couldn’t be more different from one another. But each has a plot that will leave young readers breathless and each has characters that will win hearts and minds.

I’ll start with CHECKED by Cynthia Kadota, because although I’m not usually interested in sports books or hockey, I loved it! To the story’s protagonist, eleven-year-old Conor, nothing is more important than playing hockey – and his policeman dad, who was a hockey player himself, supports his son’s dream of playing professionally. But when Conor’s beloved Doberman, Sinbad is diagnosed with cancer, everything begins to change. The dog’s treatment is barely affordable and Conor begins doing odd jobs around the neighborhood to help out with the costs. Soon he begins noticing other people’s problems, like those of his elderly neighbors. Conor is the kind of kid you’d want your kid to be. And his dad is the kind of dad you wish every kid had. The relationship between them is real and totally heart-warming. You can’t help believing in these two. What great role models for young readers!

  The electrifying ESCAPE FROM ALEPPO by N.H. Senzai, takes place at the beginning of the Arab Spring in 2010. It’s the story of twelve-year-old Nadia, who becomes separated from her family as they flee the bombing of Aleppo. Her harrowing journey to reunite with them at the Turkish border brings readers deep inside the danger and uncertainty of the escape. Together with Ammo Mazen, a mysterious old man who takes her under his wing, Nadia makes her way through the city where soldiers and rebel gangs threaten their existence. But as Ammo Mazen weakens, Nadia must develop the courage and resourcefulness to help herself and her friend. It’s a hopeful ending, but young readers won’t soon forget this emotionally wrenching exploration of the war in Syria and its awful cost.

  At the beginning of Avi’s book, THE PLAYER KING, a 15th century scullion named Lambert Simnel is working in a rough tavern in Oxford. Lambert has no family he knows of. He isn’t even sure of his age, which he guesses at “nine, ten or even thirteen.” But because of his resemblance to young Prince Edward, the missing heir to England’s throne, Lambert is purchased by two villains, Brother Simonds and the Earl of Lincoln, who forcibly educate him in the ways of royalty. The villains’ purpose is to have Lambert claim Prince Edward’s identity as the true king, opposing King Henry VII, who sits on the throne in Edward’s stead. It’s an Avi tale for sure—the kind in which the Newbery Award-winning author brings the twisted history of Medieval England to life with all the intrigue and color of the times. Fast paced and action-packed, this new release is sure to please the author’s many fans!