Set with a backdrop of worldwide upheaval and change, Jamila Gavin’s Out of India maintains a charming innocence throughout despite the tumultuous upbringing of her protagonist; herself.
Written through her own childhood eyes, the story follows Gavin as she moves between school, country and parent. Born to an Indian businessman and an academic mother, Jamila considers herself “half and half”. She doesn’t want to discard either of her parents’ past and embraces both her English and Indian sides. She revels – after some initial scepticism – in the British countryside and adores going back to her ‘palace’ in India. The main narrative is a quaint tale of childhood games, sibling rivalry and school squabbles and in this, the amiable nature of the main characters comes out. We grow to like Jamila and her parents.
But it is in the darker and more sinister aspect of the story that Gavin shows her skill; World War Two is in full swing and later, there was enormous bloodshed between Muslims and Hindus during the portioning of India. Somehow, by describing these events through a child, Gavin manages to lessen their impact. The frank and simple logic of youth shines light on the monstrosities that were committed in a sensitive and enlightening way. You imagine what it would be like for a child to live through that time. At one point her home town is subject to fighting. She and her brother are shifted from country to country to try and ensure their safety, all the time she is still a gleeful child who just wants to play her piano and have fun with friends. This is a children’s book, in every sense of the word.
The way in which the difficult subject matter is handled means Out of India would be ideal for children to read; it is educational in a subtle way. It is this ability to juxtapose epic events, with childhood frolics with the purity of an eight year old which makes Out of India such an interesting read.
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