It’s a done deal—partition will soon divide India into two countries mainly along religious lines, India for Hindus and Sikhs, Pakistan for Muslims—but Bilal’s dying father remains serenely confident that his beloved India will take another path and Bilal, 13, can’t bear for him to die disillusioned.
With three loyal friends—Chota, Saleem and Manjeet—Bilal hatches a plan to convince his widowed father that India will remain whole. Bilal’s father is highly respected in their Gujarati town, and his friends refuse to be left out of the loop: doctor, schoolmaster, printer and more; but Rafeeq, Bilal’s Muslim-activist older brother, opposes the endeavor. Rising tensions among groups that have mingled peacefully for centuries spill over, shaping the futures of adults and children. Bilal and his friends can’t avert the coming violence and losses; their path has been set. More historical and cultural context would have been helpful, but the vivid setting, appealing characters, humor and pathos largely offset this debut’s weaknesses. Master declines to shape his tale to fit the triumphalist hero’s journey template; his heroes—stubbornly holding onto their ideals and high aspirations, even after they’ve been superseded by a shabbier reality—are on a different journey, every bit as riveting.
A provocative exploration of a historical moment that resonates today. (historical note, maps) (Historical fiction. 11 & up)