Irfan Master (author)
Bloomsbury, UK: Jan 2011; 292pp
Genres: realistic fiction, historical fiction
Issues: community, differences, social condition, tolerance
India, 1947: Bilal's father is dying and their country is being torn apart by the violent civil unrest leading up to Partition. Bilal's father believes India will surive, united. Bilal knows it won't. Can he protect his father in his final days?
Thirteen-year-old Bilal, a sensitive, intelligent boy, is very aware of the increasing divisions and violence within his own community. The community where his family has lived for generations; where his father was respected for his wisdom and scholarship, his ability to resolve conflicts in the marketplace. Bilal knows it will break his father's heart to find out that India is going to be divided; that the Muslims will be expected to move to one side of the new border, Hindus and Sikhs to the other. How can this happen when his three greatest friends are Sikh, Hindu and Muslim? How can his own brother be so caught up in the rage that is infecting the entire nation?
So Bilal decides to lie. A beautiful lie, a lie that has grown out of great love and loyalty. His friends help him – children united amidst the disunity of the adults. And in the end many leaders of the community help him. The unpleasant truth, they say, is for the living – not the dying, who should be allowed to leave in peace. But such a complex piece of deception is costly – to Bilal, to his friendships, to his future. Can he survive it?
An impassioned, emotive piece of writing, extraordinary for a first novel, A Beautiful Lie reflects Irfan Master's intimate knowledge of the pain the Partition caused many in India, long years after the event. Master manages to convey the great tapestry of history and people that is India in lyrical language embedded with Bipaji's love of his country and longing for peace.
A remarkable piece of writing, younger Australian readers may find it conceptually and culturally challenging given that British Colonial Rule and Indian history is not much studied in our schools. Despite this it would make an excellent class novel study.
'Everywhere I looked, colours were bleeding into each other. Red scarves bled into white dhotis, silver bangles melted into dark brown skin, azure sky dissolved into white clouds and dripped into the crowd. It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. We were all part of one swaying movement pushing forward together. There was no beginning or end.' (p212)
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