Book news

  • Partition Voices: Untold British Stories by Kavita Puri review – humane and important
    Nikesh Shukla

    These first-hand accounts of Britain’s division of India in 1947 are essential reading

    The partition of India in 1947 displaced between 10 million and 12 million people along religious lines, causing refugee crises and violent tensions that continue to this day. As Britain left India, it drew a boundary, creating Pakistan, as the country split into two.

    What Partition was, how it was managed and how it produced division between Hindu, Muslim and Sikhs has been written about extensively. We know it involved one of the largest ever mass migrations. We know that millions died. We know that certain regions are still disputed today. What we don’t often hear about are the people who became collateral damage in the aftermath of a hastily drawn border. I’ve often thought about those who lived through Partition and what they saw. What I had never appreciated was that some of them are here in the UK, dotted among us, dealing with the trauma of what they experienced and, in some cases, what they did.

    Puri does not flinch as she dissects the tumultuous event, never shying away from the trauma

    Related: 60 years since partition

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  • Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann review – pushes narrative to its limits
    Alex Preston

    An Ohio housewife ruminates on her past in a complex novel made up of ‘just eight near-endless sentences’

    The fact that Ducks, Newburyport is 1,020 pages long, the fact that 95% of the novel is made up of just eight near-endless sentences, without paragraph breaks, some of them spooling over more than 100 pages, the fact that most of the novel is a list of statements, separated by commas, that begin with the phrase “the fact that”, the fact that you soon don’t notice the repetition of “the fact that”, the fact that these statements are also punctuated by the seemingly random emanations of the narrator’s mind, the fact that some of these are songs, earworms (Mad Dogs and Englishmen), the fact that I wouldn’t usually mention that Lucy Ellmann is the daughter of Richard Ellmann, the Joyce scholar, because she’s a serious novelist in her own right, but it feels important here, because in Ducks, Newburyport, she is making a case for a certain type of modernist novel, for difficulty, for pushing the stream-of-consciousness narrative to its limits, the fact that I read her years ago and had forgotten about her acidic, funny novels with their lists and their glowering, the fact that this feels like all of those novels rolled into one, with the story taken out, the fact that you eventually realise the story is there, but you’ve got to work for it, to sift the essential from the noise, the fact that her longtime publisher, Bloomsbury, refused to publish this novel, the fact that you can sort of understand when it contains a passage like “the fact that Laura Ingalls Wilder doesn’t ever mention going to the bathroom, the fact that how they handled that in a blizzard, the fact that we’re about due for another blizzard ourselves, gizzard, wizard, buzzard, zigzag, ziggurat, mosque, piecemeal, peacetime, four-foot sword…”, the fact that the novel was picked up by Galley Beggar, which also published Eimear McBride when all other publishers turned her away, the fact that I still worry that no book is good enough to be this long, the fact that 98% of those who pick it up will think it unspeakable guff, the fact that the 2% who get it will really get it.

    This is a book about the chaos of consciousness and the artificiality of traditional narrative

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