By Nawaaz Ahmed
It’s 1947, and the last trains bearing the displaced between the soon-to-be nations of India and Pakistan have left in the midst of raging floods of communal violence. In Partitions, Amit Majmudar’s gripping first novel, the resulting maelstrom brings four characters together: Twin Hindu boys will have to find their own way by foot east across the border to Delhi; a Sikh girl, running away from a family that prefers her death to defilement, will have to escape from the clutches of rapists and abductors; a lonely elderly Muslim doctor, fleeing his ravaged clinic in the opposite direction toward Pakistan, will have a second chance at discovering a personal humanness that transcends the role of the impersonal healer.
Majmudar writes with the incisive prose of a poet and the unflinching eye of a scientist — his award-winning poetry and training as a radiologist standing him in good stead here. Narrated by the omniscient but impotent dead father of the twins, the novel holds the reader in a similarly impotent paralysis as impending violence unfolds in terrifying detail. The book’s flaw — if it’s a flaw — is that we’re so close to our subjects at every moment that we lose sight of the river they’re swept away by: Our protagonists find solace in each other, but what is the novel claiming about the nature of tragedies of such immense and inhuman proportions?