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Independence by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Historical fiction

Independence

by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

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Quick take

This riveting Partition story captures the tumultuous moment when a nation and family are torn irreparably apart.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Emotional

    Emotional

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_ForbiddenLove

    Forbidden love

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_War

    War

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Siblings

    Siblings

Synopsis

India, 1947.

In a rural village in Bengal live three sisters, daughters of a well-respected doctor.

Priya: intelligent and idealistic, resolved to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a doctor, though society frowns on it.

Deepa: the beauty, determined to make a marriage that will bring her family joy and status.

Jamini: devout, sharp-eyed, and a talented quiltmaker, with deeper passions than she reveals.

Theirs is a home of love and safety, a refuge from the violent events taking shape in the nation. Then their father is killed during a riot, and even their neighbors turn against them, bringing the events of their country closer to home.

As Priya determinedly pursues her career goal, Deepa falls deeply in love with a Muslim, causing her to break with her family. And Jamini attempts to hold her family together, even as she secretly longs for her sister’s fiancè.

When the partition of India is officially decided, a drastic—and dangerous—change is in the air. India is now for Hindus, Pakistan for Muslims. The sisters find themselves separated from one another, each on different paths. They fear for what will happen to not just themselves, but each other.

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Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of Independence.
Independence

Chapter 1

Priya

Priya captures Somnath’s bishop with her knight and waves it about in delight. “You did not see that coming, Kaku, did you?” He bends over the board muttering, secretly pleased. He taught her to play ten years ago when she was eight; her victories are his, too.

Somnath in his cotton kurta-pajama, a glint of gold buttons at his neck. One would not guess that he owns most of the fields in Ranipur and a shipping business and fancy mansion in Calcutta. His village home remains his favorite residence. Priya claims it is because he does not have a worthy chess opponent in the big city.

Priya in the loom-woven sari most village girls wear, her laughing face framed by curly hair escaped from her braid. One would not guess she holds close to her heart a forbidden dream.

The servants arrange the food on marble tables. Lime sharbat in silver glasses, three kinds of milk-sweets, steaming pumpkin-flower pakoras, pistachios, fruitcakes sent up from Calcutta. Guilt twinges in Priya. At home, her mother and two sisters would be eating puffed rice and jaggery, peasant fare. Money is always short in the Ganguly household. Nabakumar, a fine doctor with practices in Ranipur and Calcutta, is hobbled by a bad habit: he cannot turn away patients who are unable to pay. People take advantage of you, Priya’s mother, Bina, complains. What would they have done if Bina had not been a talented quiltmaker, much in demand for her wedding kanthas? Bina is correct; still, Nabakumar is Priya’s hero.

Up the stairs comes Manorama, Somnath’s sister, manager of his household ever since his wife died giving birth to their only son, Amit. Manorama wears the white sari prescribed for widows, but hers is of the finest cotton. Jewelry is forbidden, but at her waist hangs a massive silver key ring proudly holding every key except the one to Somnath’s safe. All in this household must petition Manorama for their needs.

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Why I love it

Partition. A simple word that suggests a neutral, dispassionate separation. But the 1947 Partition of India was anything but neutral or dispassionate. It pitted friends, families, and communities against one another. Rare is the book that can capture this kind of seismic moment and still attend carefully to intimate human drama. But Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s Independence is just such a book, wise and sensitive to the many ironies of history.

Nabakumar Ganguly is a well-respected doctor in Bengal. His family is content though short on money, as he never turns away a patient from his clinic. He has three daughters: Priya, Deepa and Jamini. When we first meet, they are just beginning to chart their own courses: Priya wishes to follow her father into medicine; Deepa is committed to finding a marriage to shore up her family’s fortunes; Jamini, the most devout among them, hones her craft as a quiltmaker and harbors secret passions. But after Partition their lives are irrevocably changed. One sister finds herself in the newly formed Pakistan, another ends up far afield in America. Amidst violence and upheaval, each struggles to assert control over their lives and do right by those they love.

Through the story of one family, Independence paints a vivid and gripping portrait of a nation being pulled apart at the seams. For any readers that love historical fiction where history remains alive, reminding us why we fight over love, freedom, and our beliefs, this is one not to be missed!

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Member ratings (4,564)

  • Shannon B.

    Mountain Ranch , CA

    I cannot say enough good things about this book. Three sisters’ very different paths through India gaining it’s independence yet their undying devotion to each other. A page turner that you can’t stop

  • Kaleah T.

    Houston, TX

    Be transported to the days of Partition! 3 sisters’ secret desires. Priya’s love for medicine & an old friend, Deepa’s forbidden love, forgotten Jamini longs for love. Inspirational & heart-wrenching.

  • Shreya K.

    Fishers , IN

    This story gripped my heart from get go. A story of three sisters in a tumultuous time in India which depicts rather painful yet a beautiful picture of family love women’s strength and resilience !!❤️

  • Sylvia C.

    Nashville , TN

    Such a moving story, my heart broke for Priya over and over and I must admit I never liked Jamini. I learned more about partition and the devastation it caused. Love books that entertain and teach! ????

  • Mark P.

    Stoughton, WI

    Chitra writes an amazing story of three sisters while teaching you about the history of the Independence of India. This is filled with love lost, regained and lost again. Key theme was promises kept

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