Today I am excited to share my review for Where the River Parts, a historical fiction novel that explores the effects of the partition of India & Pakistan on one woman over the course of her life…
Author: Radhika Swarup
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Sandstone Press
‘Blood had begun to trickle down Asha’s starched cotton salwar, and once more she tried to will herself to stay calm. It was nothing. These things happened. ‘
But these things haven’t happened before. It’s August 1947, the night before India’s independence. It is also the night before Pakistan’s creation and the brutal Partition of the two countries.
Asha, a Hindu in a newly Muslim land, must flee to safety. She carries with her a secret she has kept even from Firoze, her Muslim lover, but Firoze must remain in Pakistan, and increasing tensions between the two countries mean the couple can never reunite.
Fifty years later in New York, Asha’s Indian granddaughter falls in love with a Pakistani, and Asha and Firoze, meeting again at last, are faced with one more – final – choice.
Spanning continents and generations, Where the River Parts is an epic tale of love, loss and longing.
I’m ashamed to admit this, but I did not have high expectations going into Where the River Parts. I requested it from NetGalley back in 2016 because the premise sounded interesting, but I found that I kept putting it off as I wasn’t seeing people reading it. With under 100 ratings on Goodreads, I worried that this book was going to be a disappointment. Since I decided to participate in #YARC2019 and this book is set in India/Pakistan, I decided I would kill two birds with one stone and finally pick it up.
Where the River Parts is a historical fiction about the partition of Indian in 1947 into India & Pakistan and explores the tensions between the Muslim & Hindu people during that time. I know I sound like a broken record, but one of my favorite aspects of historical fiction is learning about events in history that I knew little to nothing about. Is it embarrassing to admit that I did not know that Pakistan was part of India prior to 1947? Probably. I had no idea about the animosity between the Muslim & Hindu people during this time. I was appalled to discover how these two religious groups treated each other: mass murders, mobs, abductions, rape. Hundreds of thousands (potentially millions) of people on each side of this conflict were affected. The exact numbers are not clear, but it is estimated that up to 2 million people total were killed during this time. After the partition, the Muslims occupied Pakistan while the Hindu people flocked to India.
Where the River Parts follows Asha, a Hindu girl, as she is forced from her home with her family leaving behind everything she knows. We watch as Asha must overcome one hardship after the next. My heart ached for Asha throughout the majority of this book, but Asha found a way to keep moving forward. She was a very sympathetic character, so I was very invested in Asha’s plight.
A big aspect of the plot line is the forbidden romance between Asha, a Hindu girl, and Firoze, a Muslim boy. While this book is part historical romance, it was so much more than that. If you’ve followed my reviews for a while, you probably already know that I don’t typically tend to enjoy books where the romance is central to the plot. Despite the fact that romance was a decent chunk of the story, there was plenty of substance to the rest of the story that kept me satisfied.
The plot of Where the River Parts had a little bit of everything: forbidden romance, religious conflict, historical context, cultural framework, family drama, etc. The pacing of the book was well done. There was never a point in the book where I felt the story was lacking or dragging, I was entertained the entirety of the book. I really enjoyed that this story followed Asha as a young girl and progresses throughout her adult life, and into her advanced years. I also appreciated how things seemed to come full circle at the end of the book with Asha & her Granddaughter.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that the writing was excellent in Where the River Parts. There is not a lot of information on the author, but I’m fairly sure this is her debut novel. When you see a debut novel with not many ratings on Goodreads, I think the assumption tends to be that the writing is going to be amateur… Again, I’m ashamed that I misjudged this book based on preconceived notions.
I only had one small issue with Where the River Parts. Towards the second half of the book, there is a pretty substantial time jumping going on. While I totally understand this was necessary for the story, the way the story transitioned was a bit jarring & abrupt. I think the author could have added a little more to the story to smooth the transitions a bit.
Where the River Parts is truly a hidden gem. I am baffled that there are only around 90 ratings on Goodreads for it. I really do wish this book had more attention and that more people would give it a go.
Trigger/content warnings: rape, mob violence, murder, infertility, PTSD, and miscarriage.
*Big thanks to Sandstone Press for providing me with a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I spent a nomadic childhood in India, Italy, Qatar, Pakistan, Romania and England, which gave me a keen sense for the dispossessed.
I read Economics at Cambridge University, following which I worked in investment banking. I suspected I wasn’t cut out for the world of finance, though, and this realisation hit me with unmistakable clarity when I found myself in a Frankfurt conference centre surrounded by industry veterans crowing over the latest Financial Times article to call them vultures. I felt a germ of a story take root inside me, and I immediately left the conference centre – with its champagne and its crowds – to sit in my hotel room and write. I was the happiest I had been for years.
I have since written opinion pieces for Indian broadsheets and the Huffington Postas well as short stories for publications including the Edinburgh Review. Where the River Parts is my first novel.
Have you read Where the River Parts? If so, what did you think?
Comment below & let me know 🙂