The beginning is so far back in time, it’s hard to know what’s real. It’s like a fairytale.
I’d have liked to spend more time in this part of the story, but it moves forward. We race from the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries, untangling the beginnings of India’s colonial past, or rather, England’s colonial invasion. Characters have the same names at different times, centuries apart. One of them is Champa – the flower in the picture. The tide of history rolls on. Things get worse, but also better, it seems.
Until in the 1940s, the dam breaks. And there’s no going back home, because home has changed, or it isn’t there any more, or even if it is, they won’t let you go back. The land is being divided up, and the only way out for some – who can afford to – is to leave. For England.
Talat utterly won me over. And it was she who had to let go of her friends from home in a place where people really didn’t know what that meant.
I loved the sweep of this book. I want to read more of Hyder’s work. But I would have really liked to stay longer in the early years, when India as much Muslim as Hindu or Buddhist or anything else, when history could have developed in a very different direction.
River of Fire by Quarratulain Hyder, transcreated into English from the original Urdu by the author, is published by New Directions.