I don’t usually read short stories and this is my first time reading about the partition of India and Pakistan. I didn’t want to put this book down. I felt a little guilty because my favorite story was Anju’s and her story doesn’t take place during the partition. I wanted the relationship between Anju and Jenkin’s (40 years after the end of his story) to continue. How would their two separate heart-breaks interact? What kind of friendship could they have? What did Jenkin’s learn from his experience? If that one story was an entire novel, I would read it.
For every story, I love how Rao puts people in various situations and then lets the characters react. What do people do in times of crisis? What kinds of decisions do people make when the standard social expectations no longer apply?
She even brought that question into Anju’s modern day story, contrasting two sisters, who experienced a childhood event together and then showing their individual responses to that same event. There is something about the way she represents each character and every decision. It touches on humanness in a complex and emotionally intelligent way. In some core ways, humans are so similar, but in other core ways, we are so different. In this book, we don’t always know the character’s motivation (at least, I don’t), but I don’t need to know.
I saw another reviewer talk about Rao’s presentation of history and loosely compare it to Colson Whiteheads Underground Railroad. Both authors bring a mythic quality to history that both gives it more depth and more thoughtfulness. Rao doesn’t do this gratuitously. To me, the way she does this is so natural. It is line with how ancient history looks in my head, anyway, which why the mythology of her stories didn’t jump out at me, at first.