Author Veera Hiranandani kicked off her fall book club tour right here at Greenwich Academy with a visit to the Group V / Group VI book club, whose members have been eagerly reading and passing around copies of her new historical novel. The Night Diary tells the story of 12-year-old Nisha on her journey from Pakistan to India at the time of the 1947 Partition of India, newly independent from British rule.
Ms. Hiranandani, the daughter of a Jewish mother who grew up in the United States and a Hindu father who grew up in India, knows what it's like to live between worlds—as does her character Nisha, who is half Hindu and half Muslim. It wasn't until Ms. Hiranandani moved from a small school in Connecticut (where she'd known everyone from when she was little) to a larger school that her appearance and background became subject to scrutiny, where classmates turned to ask, "Who are you? What are you?" To escape the questions, Ms. Hiranandani turned to books—and thus began a life devoted to reading and writing.
"I looked for novels set during the Partition," she told her audience, "and didn't find any." She set out to write one herself. Her father, nine years old during the Partition, made the journey from Pakistan to India. "I began to imagine what that must have been like for a child," Ms. Hiranandani said, explaining to the students that it was a time when more than fourteen million people were displaced. She showed the students a period photograph of people crowded onto the top of a packed train, making a journey similar to her father's (and her character Nisha's). "The trains became very dangerous places," the author explained.
Ms. Hiranandani fielded questions from the students, which touched on format (the novel evolved from diary entries into letters from Nisha to her late mother), name choices ("Nisha" means "Night"), symbolism (Nisha and her brother, twins, might be seen to represent the two sides of Partition), and her own favorite writing spot (a cozy third floor room, "like a treehouse").
The author also described the writing and editing process to the students, revealing that with more writing experience comes more—not less—revision. The book took her five years to complete. Ms. Hiranandani explained, "The more experienced a writer you are, the more you want to revise." The students will eagerly await her next novel, this one set in the United States, no matter how many revisions that takes.