Author Veera Hiranandani Speaks About Identity and Resilience in Her Latest Book

Hiranandani, known for her previous novel, “The Night Diary,” read from and reflected on her new work.

Veera Hiranandani
Published June 7, 2024 2:10 PM
2 min read

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Inspired by her father’s survivor story in the Partition of India, Newbery Award-winning author Veera Hiranandani addressed identity, resilience, and grief in a discussion of her latest book, “Amil and the After,” at the Rye Free Reading Room on June 2.

The event, organized by the India Cultural Center, drew a diverse audience of teens, children, and parents eager to engage with the author.

Hiranandani, known for her previous novel, “The Night Diary,” read from and reflected on her new work.

Set against the backdrop of India’s 1947 Partition, “Amil and the After” continues the story of characters from “The Night Diary,” exploring the division of British India into two independent dominions, India and Pakistan, with the reorganization of political borders and the division of assets.

Her father, who was nine at the time, had to pack a bag and board a train amid the chaos and confusion. “He was sort of surprised I wanted to center this in my work,” she said. “I think he’s been happily surprised.”

During the event, Hiranandani offered a glimpse into the life of her protagonist, Amil, who grieves his mother’s death by drawing.

“I didn’t think I’d write a continuation of that story (‘The Night Diary’),” Hiranandani said. “It was a very challenging book to write. I started to miss the world I had created.”

The event featured a discussion moderated by two Rye teens who encouraged Hiranandani’s reflections, especially her intentions for young readers as a mother herself.

“Writing about this period allowed me to connect with a space I’ve been in and visited,” she said. “I’m not familiar with many books on this subject for young people, so I felt it was important to explore and answer the questions I had.”

Hiranandani not only spoke to her father in researching the book, she also spoke with family members and friends, and consulted a range of sources, including Yasmin Khan’s “The Great Partition.” She even began collecting oral history videos of Partition survivors.

Despite her extensive research, she said, “No matter how much research I can do, I will never experience that.”

Although themes of resilience permeate Hiranandani’s work, she said, “I think we hear that word a lot – resilience. It’s sort of imposed a little bit on younger people.”

However, she added, “While the goal is to be resilient, we also need to make space for experiencing hard things and processing them. There might be some wounds that you carry that you need to make space for.”

Throughout the event, Hiranandani emphasized Amil’s coping with grief by drawing.

“If you’re coping with some aspect of loss, sometimes it’s easier to relate to a fictional character,” Hiranandani said. “It’s a very private space.”

Hiranandani’s took questions from the audience, and young readers and their parents asked about her writing process and the historical context of her books.

The event highlighted the importance of storytelling for young people in understanding and preserving family history, and how literature can bridge the gap between past and present.

Hiranandani left the audience with a sense of hope, much like the meaning of her protagonist Amil’s name — one who hopes.

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