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What happens to a family after a dangerous, life-changing and historic journey? That’s the focus of Veera Hiranandani’s wonderful Amil and the After, which follows 12-year-old Amil and his family, who, during the Partition of India in 1948, have just migrated to Bombay from what would become Pakistan. It’s a worthy companion novel to Hiranandani’s Newbery Honoree The Night Diary, which tells the story of that journey through the perspective of Amil’s twin sister, Nisha.
Amil and Nisha’s Hindu father tells them, “Everything is broken. Pakistan and the new India are like two eggs sitting on a ledge, having no idea what they’re going to grow up to be.” Similarly, his children are also in a precarious state before transformation. While Nisha flourishes on schoolwork and writing, Amil is dyslexic and loves to draw. Amil begins making a series of drawings about their new life as a way of honoring their Muslim mother, who died in childbirth.
“I thought we were over the bad stuff here in Bombay,” Amil confesses. “We’re safe and getting back to a normal life, I guess, but I’m still sad a lot of the time.” Everyone is trying to find their way, from their father to their homesick grandmother and Kazi, their beloved Muslim cook. Nisha is slowly emerging from selective mutism, and both Amil and Nisha help each other through occasional panic attacks stemming from their harrowing escape. Hiranandani depicts the twins’ relationship exceptionally well, deeply developing her characters as they bounce their thoughts and fears off of each other.
This is an excellent work of historical fiction, seamlessly and sensitively integrating the personal and the political. A particularly empathetic young man, Amil wonders why he and his family managed to survive their migration while others perished or ended up in refugee camps instead of a comfortable apartment. After befriending Vishal, who is homeless and without family, Amil wonders why his new friend is “a boy exactly like he was, just unlucky instead of lucky.”
With Amil and the After, Veera Hiranandani masterfully presents a powerful, unvarnished examination of difficult subject matter while paving the way forward with hope and love.