Book Review of ‘Hiraeth’ by Dr. Shivani Salil

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I missed being one of the participants of the #AtoZChallenge hosted by Blogchatter last year. I’ve enjoyed the whole experience starting from the conceptualization of the theme, drafting of posts, and compiling them into a book at the end. But, if I had to pick one thing which I loved the most, it was meeting new talented writers and reading their work. 

Despite my packed schedule, I’d noticed that if there was one participant who was receiving a lot of buzz for her posts, it was Dr. Shivani Salil. At the outset, I could understand why. Her theme of ‘Partition Stories from 1947’ was indeed unique and intriguing.

Every time I wanted to catch a glimpse of one of her posts to get a feel, something would come by, and I’d forget about them.

Months later, I was happy to hear that Shivani was coming up with her debut book, ‘Hiraeth: Partition Stories from 1947’ by Artoonsinn Publications. I was glad that I waited because I knew that what I’d be reading would be the most exquisite version of the stories. 

At the crack of 2020 dawn, I finally sunk my teeth into Hiraeth and devoured it in two sittings. 

Why Hiraeth makes such an important read 

Hiraeth is an interesting book to review, especially given our current times. 

Reading Hiraeth brought me back flashes of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee boy who drowned on 2 September 2015 in the Mediterranean Sea, when he and his family were trying to reach Canada via Europe amid the European refugee crisis. 

Hiraeth is not just a grim reminder about our country’s past in 1947, it could well be a foreboding of the coming times in India, and the world over. USA and Iran are on the brink of war. Some say it could well be time for World War III. 

The recent protests against the CAA-NRC bill add to the simmering tensions in India and Pakistan, where anything can threaten the peace and harmony in the region anytime. History could well repeat itself all over again. 

My thoughts on Hiraeth

As the title suggests, Hiraeth is a fictionalized account of real-life partition stories in 1947. The twenty-four short stories are on an average of about 2-3 mins read. 

Hiraeth does not feel like the work of a debut author at all. Short stories are trickier to write than novels because you need to convey so much in so little, and Shivani aces this genre in her debut. 

I loved the story titles in Urdu, and how every story is written with a lot of care. For example, Naseeb (Luck) is the 13th story in this anthology. Small details like that make a big impact. 

The stories are tautly written, and most, barring a few, have a hook to engage and surprise the reader. 

While all the stories are genuinely wonderful, some of my personal favourites in the book are Saans, Izzat, Jazbaat, Hiraeth, Chinh, Beaaz, Quam, Dhokha, Alfaaz, Ummi to name a few. Stories like Omar, Vataani, Waghaar, and Zakhm are the need of the hour in a rising atmosphere of intolerance and nationalism in the country and the world over. 

Final thoughts

Hiraeth, by Dr. Shivani Salil, is like a soothing balm in our divisive times. The stories are beautiful, with a melange of melancholic and joyous endings. But every story is one that of love, hope, resilience, and inclusiveness with an underlying ‘unity in diversity’ theme. 

We need more such secular messages in mainstream art and literature today. The book is also a grim reminder of what humanity can come to if we fall for the trap called nationalism. 

Hiraeth is a must-read without a doubt. Even though the stories are brief, I’d recommend reading it in 2-3 sittings to let the essence of the stories and its emotions sink in. 

You can purchase your copy of the book here: https://www.amazon.in/Hiraeth-Partition-Stories-from-1947/dp/8194132622/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Hiraeth&qid=1578448485&sr=8-1

 

2 comments

  1. The book is in my TBR. I’ve read a few stories of the book. Infact, these lines of the very first chapter are compelling me to read the book:

    “A new hand pump had been grouted in the camp a while ago. Yanking its handle gave him a sense of purpose. It made him feel important and he would often offer to fill the pitchers.”

    It reaffirms that happiness is a choice. You can be happy if you want whatever the situation may be.

    How survivors cope with unbearable & find meaning in small things to award themselves moments of happiness is beautifully highlighted by these lines.

    Like

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