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.
There are times – ok, not too often – when I wish I was just a wandering reader again and could read whatever I fancy whenever I like. OK, maybe not, I enjoy Being Anne too much, but there are times when it’s incredibly frustrating not to be able to read a book that calls me so loudly and insistently. Where the River Parts by Radhika Dogra Swarup, published by Sandstone Press on 18th February, has been gathering the most wonderful reviews from so many of my reviewing friends. Here are just a few extracts: do visit the blogs and read the full reviews.
In Where the River Parts there is an exquisite telling of the violence and heartbreak of political turmoil from an intimate perspective… The sadness for me in reading this book is that so much of the same horror is being inflicted on people today. Radhika Swarup’s writing is so vivid… There is a real sense of place… It has everything from history and politics to geography and culture, but more importantly, it shows love and the enduring spirit of humanity. Linda’s Book Bag
I cried. In fact I sobbed. I don’t think you can read Where The River Parts and not show emotion. Where The Rivers Part is a story of a woman fleeing religious intolerance from her homeland to a place where she ultimately finds peace. It’s a story of hope and dreams (even when they’re shattered) and a love that touches your soul. Jera’s Jamboree
An epic story that spanned decades and showed some of the brutalities, desperation and sadness, and the ruining of the families and lives of so many… this story was as beautiful as it was shocking and I would highly recommend it. A very accomplished debut that had an almost cinematic feel to it, where I felt invested in the characters and the outcomes…
Reflections of a Reader
I’m delighted to welcome author Radhika Dogra Swarup to Being Anne…
Hello Anne, and let me begin by saying how wonderful it is to be on your blog, and to have your support for Where the River Parts.
As for me, I spent my childhood in India, Italy, Qatar, Pakistan, Romania and England. I have a degree in Economics from Cambridge University and worked in the City for years before leaving it to pursue writing. I live in London with my husband and two children, and steal time to write while my young ones are in school. My debut novel, Where the River Parts, about a couple caught up in the India-Pakistan Partition, was published in February 2016 by Sandstone Press. I also blog for Huffington Post India.
The fact that Where the River Parts has touched people so deeply must have brought you great pleasure. Did you imagine this would happen when you started to write?
Though the novel is ostensibly about a period of Indian-Pakistani history that took place nearly 70 years ago, the fact that so many people in the world are facing a similarly traumatic period of displacement today was never far from my mind. A lot of readers have picked up on this connection with the present, which is fantastic and so gratifying. The reception is also beyond my wildest expectations (and believe me, I was willing the book to be well received!). It’s very humbling to know Where the River Parts has struck a chord with so many, and makes all the uncertainty and the solitude of the writing life worthwhile.
How did you research the background? Was it a history that was familiar to you?
As an Indian, and as someone who has lived in Pakistan, I was familiar with Partition. My family was impacted by the Partition too, and we made the move from Pakistan into India, so the whole tumultuous period is engraved on our psyche.
The sheer scale of the displacement, though, was unknown to me. 1 million people were murdered, and 16 million left homeless, largely in the 3 month period that followed Independence. I had to research these aspects of the past – the extent of the tragedy, the interactions between members of the Hindu, Muslim and Sikh communities in united India, the clothes worn during the period, how the flames of hatred were fanned – partly through books and other media, and partly through family accounts.
Is it a difficult thing to bring a history so few of your readers will be familiar with so vividly into life? As a debut novelist, there must have been challenges…
I tried to focus on the fact that protagonists from that era and from that geography still had familiar concerns. A 17 year old girl was still consumed with her youth, her friendships and with love. She had no concept of a career back then, but she did recognise the need for education, and in that sense, she doesn’t feel so dissimilar to a young girl today. A 20 year old boy was still focussed on injustice, his career and the girl he loves. And though the setting is different for many readers today, I hope the common traits they share with the protagonists help make them feel real.
Tell me more about your path to publication…
I left my career in finance behind to work on my writing. I began by writing short stories, and once I was certain of my voice, I began to write longer fiction. It has taken a few years to write Where the River Parts and get it to a place where I’m happy with it. Once my agents went out with Where the River Parts, we were delighted with the offer made by Sandstone Press. We agreed terms in January 2015, finalised the novel by autumn and the book was published in February 2016.
And how about you, the writer. Had you always wanted to write fiction? What gave you the push to actually do it?
I always wrote as a child, but stopped when I went to university. My degree was in Economics, and after I graduated I began to work in investment banking, and for a while it seemed as if my days of writing – of indeed reading for pleasure – were at an end.
And then, on my 26th birthday, I found myself at a Private Equity conference in Frankfurt, surrounded by industry veterans crowing over the latest article to call them vultures. It was at that moment that I realised that my future didn’t lie in finance, and that I had to write. I left the celebrations of the conference and went to my hotel room to write, and was the happiest I had been in years.
How do you write? Are you fitting it round the demands of a job and family? What’s a typical writing day?
I write around my family – I have two young children, and am tied to their schedules. I tend to write when they’re in school, but if I’m in the middle of writing a draft, I wake up at 4am to fit in a few hours of writing time while the children are asleep.
And what writers do you admire? if someone said “your writing reminds me of…”, who would you like them to mention?
There are so many writers I admire greatly, and have spent so much of my childhood trying to emulate them. Hemingway, EM Forster, Tolstoy, Toni Morrison to name a very few. I have greatly enjoyed reading Arundhati Roy, and more recently, Akhil Sharma too. I feel, though, that I have to write in my own distinct voice.
And what’s next for you? Are you working on something new?
I’m working on my next novel, which examines a woman’s response when the world she knows changes forever. It’s an internal exile, if you will, as compared to Where the River Parts’ epic journey. It’s in the early stages of planning, but I’m really looking forward to delving into her life.
I’ll really look forward to that one Radhika, and hopefully will be able to catch up with Where the River Parts before too long – it sounds simply wonderful. Thank you so much for joining me today.