Despite my Indian-American heritage, Partition to me feels as distant as any historical event. Though my grandparents were children in a pre-Independence India, Partition did not affect their lives directly as they lived in South India, far from the newly drawn borders of India and Pakistan. What I know of Partition comes from books, articles, secondhand accounts. Nonfiction can report and expand upon its horrors, but sometimes it takes a work of fiction to truly internalize those horrors.
Anjali Enjeti’s The Parted Earth is a love story and family saga, with both the direct actions and distant legacy of Partition as a backdrop. In this split narrative we follow Deepa Khanna, sixteen years old in 1947 and a victim of the sectarian violence in Delhi. She flees to London and starts her life anew, carrying a painful reminder of her lost love, Amir, who now lives in Pakistan with his Muslim family. Sixty years later, Deepa’s granddaughter Shan is forty-one and grieving the loss of her marriage and of a pregnancy. With the help of a kindly neighbor and a box of her late father’s belongings, Shan begins to piece together the mysteries of her long-lost heritage.
Enjeti’s writing is direct yet romantic. She portrays young, star-crossed lovers with tenderness reminiscent of Khaled Hosseini, and also captures the unspoken conversations and deep-seated resentments of later adulthood. The book spans continents with ease, and while it does not sugarcoat the atrocities of Partition, it envelops its characters in a surprising warmth. This is a novel of division, of the Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs affected by this tragedy, but it is also a novel of rediscovering family ties. The relationships in this story carry us through, as do the coping mechanisms of various characters. We are shown art in a myriad of forms as a path to healing: poetry, sculpture, storytelling. We see missed opportunities and painful mementos; the novel is not without its searing heartbreak. But ultimately the picture we are given, over seventy years since Partition, is one of hope.
In a quest to pursue said hope, the book reaches its resolution rather quickly. Slower pacing in the latter half of the novel could have done a great deal in fleshing out the character relationships, particularly long-held secrets and a few too many convenient coincidences. Additionally, the timeline of the book is at times disjointed, switching back and forth between decades and points of view. One could argue that fewer point of view characters could lead to a more focused story overall, but it would not accurately depict the multitudes of Partition and its victims. In the end, The Parted Earth makes its many transitions clear, through chapter divisions and variations in storytelling and voice. These choices ultimately overcome any confusions in timeline and characterization. If romanticized in some ways, the novel remains grounded in its subject matter and in central conflicts of identity and coping with loss.
I cannot comment on whether this book accurately captures the emotional and physical turmoil that Partition caused, nor the lasting impact on survivors. In truth, many of those who remembered Partition are no longer with us to comment. However, it is apparent that Enjeti treats her subject matter with utmost respect. Telling love stories in the midst of war and tragedy remains tried and true, and The Parted Earth elevates this trope by bringing in the ripple effects on future generations. And while the endings are tied in bows in the midst of messy conflict, ultimately it does not detract from the loving characterizations and focused writing brought to life in this novel. What we’re left with is a moving, nuanced, fictionalized portrait of a piece of history far from ancient.
The Parted Earth
By Anjali Enjeti
Hub City Press
Published May 04, 2021
Malavika Praseed is a writer, book reviewer, and genetic counselor. Her fiction has been published in Plain China, Cuckoo Quarterly, Re:Visions, and others. Her podcast, YOUR FAVORITE BOOK, is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and various other platforms