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63 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book on this subject accessible to the general reader
I was born and brought up in India and I have a keen interest in South Asian history. Out of the 15 or so books on partition that I read (sometimes just skimmed through!), this book is undoubtedly the best. (Patrick French's book 'Liberty or Death' is also VERY good, but it covers lot of other issues- not just Partition and is quite long!).
If you have an...
Published on March 16, 2009 by S. Mitra

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15 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Biased View Disguised as Objective History
Please don't consider this book "objective" history. It's gotten great press, and it contains some valuable information, but reader beware: Yasmin Khan has a definite pro-Muslim bias. Her version of Partition is one deliberately shaped to make Muslims appear the victims of Hindus. Khan is smart enough not to make overtly prejudiced or inflammatory statements--how credible...
Published 19 months ago by Parul Kapur


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63 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book on this subject accessible to the general reader, March 16, 2009
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This review is from: The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan (Paperback)
I was born and brought up in India and I have a keen interest in South Asian history. Out of the 15 or so books on partition that I read (sometimes just skimmed through!), this book is undoubtedly the best. (Patrick French's book 'Liberty or Death' is also VERY good, but it covers lot of other issues- not just Partition and is quite long!).
If you have an appreciation for good English writing, this book will be a pleasure to read- but don't expect something that panders to popular stereotypes about India/South Asia or interesting anecdotes about eccentric Indian kings or leaders- this is a serious work of scholarship suitable only for the deeply interested casual reader. The author appears to be a first rate scholar who has a very impressive command over the subject matter- she sometimes manages to convey more in a couple of paragraphs than some other historians will do in entire chapters. I needed all my prior knowledge of Indian history to begin to understand how good this book really is! In the interest of brevity, I will mention only two major strengths of this book relative to other general accounts of the Partition of India.

1.This is history from the bottom up- instead of focusing on the discussions between leaders of the Indian National Congress, Muslim League and high ranking British officials leading up to the partition, the author concentrates on how the politics related to the partition played out on the streets of India- the fears, insecurities and expectations of the common people and how politicians sought to engage them. The majority of studies on Partition concentrate only on the 'elite politics' aspect- what Nehru, Jinnah or Mountbatten did or didn't do or say etc. Not that this is not important - but to really understand the positions taken by Nehru/Jinnah/Gandhi/Mountbatten and others- it is not enough to understand their personalities and their relationships- we also have to understand the broader social/political environment in which these positions were formed. The political decisions and actions of the major players cannot be understood in isolation- they become much more intelligible if you have a better understanding of the popular expectations, pressures and fears to which these leaders were compelled to respond. (This is probably particularly true of the Partition which became a highly emotive issue for many Hindus and Muslims/Sikhs during those times). In Yasmin Khan's book - this broader context, the evolving political situation in India in the late 1930's and early to mid 1940's is discussed with a richness and detail that is not equaled by any other book that I have read or heard about on the Partition of India- and this is a particular merit of this book.

2.Both Hindu and Muslim nationalists (who have a particular stake in distorting the history of partition for their own purposes) will find a lot to be angry about in this book- and this is a very good thing! I think this is a highly judicious account which is not biased towards the official Indian or Pakistani version of the history of partition (although- of course, many will disagree- which again is unsurprising!).

Overall, this is a relatively brief and exceedingly well written general history of the partition. (The overall tone of the writing is analytical
- but there is little unnecessary academic jargon and it is not very dry either).
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80 of 85 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Great Partition -- an excellent history, September 26, 2007
By 
Ali Abunimah (Chicago, IL USA) - See all my reviews
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I bought this book after reading the positive review in The Economist. Khan does an excellent job showing the enormity and tragedy of Partition in people's lives -- more or less ignoring the diplomatic and political history that has been well covered in other works. History is always told with hindsight; Khan shows convincingly that while Partition was widely supported (and opposed), no one, not even the leaders who pushed it hardest had any understanding of what it would do to their country. Although there is an epilogue reflecting on the continued resonance of Partition today, the account ends in the immediate aftermath of partition. It left me wanting more -- a good sign. The book confirmed my conviction that modern nationalism is a folly that has cost humanity dearly. Anyone looking for a highly readable, thoroughly documented and moving account of the Partition of India and its human and social consequences should consider this book.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Commendable, succinct history, July 14, 2008
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While many books demonize India or Pakistan in the blame game of partition, Yasmin Khan indicates there was a shared breakdown of Hindu and Muslim trust leading up to the event. This was exacerbated by the clumsy imposition of premature partition upon India and Pakistan by the British government. Without making clear what partition meant or how it would be implemented, fears were greatly magnified, leading to some of the worst civil violence in India-Pakistan history; a virtual state of ethnic cleansing existed, perpetrated by extremists on both sides in 1947. So there is plenty of blame to be passed around. Khan's book seems to do historical justice to the even without detectable Hindu or Muslim bias. His history is vividly descriptive, but sometimes shies away from the political details and power plays one might have wished he had explored further. Nonetheless I found it to be a succinct, commendable book on the event of India's partition.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not John Lennon's India, June 11, 2011
By 
Kim Burdick (NEWARK, DE, US) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan (Paperback)
For those of us in the West who grew up hero-worshipping Gandhi's pacifism; wearing Nehru jackets everywhere including to Civil Rights rallies; and watching "The Jewel in the Crown," this is an eye-opening story. The painful holocaust that accompanied the partition of India and Pakistan not so many years ago, has escaped most Westerners.

Khan, whose grandfathers fought on different sides in this era, has a fairly-even-handed approach and examines both the Hindu and Muslim sides of the story.

No blame is assigned to either side for the horrors that are portrayed, but the fear and confusion of ordinary people in a changing world, the many murders of innocent families with children, the ruined lives of thousands of displaced persons on both sides of the border, are carefully documented and well-footnoted.

It is high time for Westerners to read this and other books about 20th century India and Pakistan. The current turmoil in southern Asia makes it very important that we begin to pay attention not only to current events but also to recent history. This would be a great book to use in a World History class and would also a good choice for discussions in a sociology course. It should be read by thinking people everywhere.

And I do think the world should continue to see Gandhi and Nehru, and the world's largest democracy,India, as excellent role models just as we did back in John Lennon's day.

Kim Burdick
Stanton, DE
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Must read on one of humanity's worst excesses, January 27, 2010
By 
Vijay K. Gurbani (Lisle, IL United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan (Paperback)
The Partition of India is a much studied though least discussed topic. Let me qualify what I mean by that seeming contradiction of terms. Many academics have studied the cause for the Partition and its horrendous aftermaths, but that's it. It has become an academic exercise that has lacked thorough discussion by the very people that it wreaked havoc on. India sees the Partition through her own prism as does Pakistan. Both appear to be entrenched in the view that the other side caused it and our side suffered massively for it. As a result, students in India read the Indian version of the very same truth that is regurgitated in a much different form to Pakistani students. The truth becomes a casualty by the politics of each state.
Today's world knows more about the Jewish plight in Europe and the after-effects of the atomic bombs in Japan than it does about the Partition --- an event that displaced 18 million people, killed 3 million, and scarred many million more. The Indian and Pakistani states are simply not interested in preserving the memories --- as horrid as they are --- for future generations. The trains full of dead bodies arriving in empty stations; countless women abducted, left behind, or bartered for passage from one country to another; religions adopted or discarded at the whim of unruly mobs; riches lost and families torn apart. All these are the realities of the Partition that will go mostly unrecorded except for an academic mention. I am simply amazed by the single mindedness of the Israeli government to keep the memory of the Holocaust fresh in contemporary print and media (movies, etc.) just as I am amazed by the Indian and Pakistani state to interpret the Partition to suit the political need of the hour.
There are many reasons why the Partition occurred. The British wanted to accelerate their withdrawal from India, having just finished World War II with depleted coffers. They did not have the treasury nor the will to continue their dominion. Europe was licking its wounds from World War II as well and was not interested in the cleaving of a nation far from its borders. The Muslim League wanted a separate state for Muslims but had no idea what it would mean to divide the nation based on religious lines and to rule a new nation founded on religious principles -- who protects the minorities? The Congress had its hand full trying to consolidate a new nation from the former princely states.
It is debatable whether the Partition could have been avoided. Was it for the British simply a matter of drawing a random line and dividing Punjab and present day Bangladesh as they did? Did they anticipate the mass exodus from each country to the other of the affected people? Did Jinnah anticipate this? Did Nehru? The book makes a point that the refugee crisis careened out of control because the world was not prepared to handle such a mass exodus. Red Cross did not exist in 1947 and the newly formed United Nations did not have the accouterments like UNHCR to deal with the refugee crisis. Whatever the causes and effects, the Partition ranks alongside the Holocaust and the use of atomic weapons as a testament to humanity's worst. Except that unlike the Holocaust and atomic bombs, most of the world is ignorant of the horrors of the Partition.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent context on partition, April 5, 2008
By 
Z. Mirza (Chicago, USA) - See all my reviews
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Most histories of the Indian Partition focus on the leadership but this one actually provides the social, economic and human context of the event. Khan is very balanced in her analysis identifying the forces that were building in the run-up to the Partition. The tragic consequences of these forces were were inevitable but they were ignored by native and colonial leaders due to either their incompetence or their indulgence. While lots of evil was committed by both sides, the book illustrates the uncertain context in which such evil was predictable, even if not justifiable.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Freedom and Fragmentation, June 14, 2012
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This review is from: The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan (Paperback)
Partition and independence were not an unusual combination as the British Empire gradually came apart during the 20th century. This process was in large part rooted in the Divide and Rule policy that helped turn what had been a small peripheral European country in the 16th century into the largest Empire the world had seen by the 19th. In Ireland and Palestine it was colonies of Protestants and Jews that partitioned off sections of the country from their original Catholic and Palestinian inhabitants. India was never colonised as such, but amongst the rich tapestry of its people the two largest communities were the Hindus and Muslims. The British played on and formalised the differences between those communities as well as others to aid the holding of their Indian Empire. When the Empire was no more these populations had different expectations and desires as independence came into view; it is the disastrous conflict between those expectations that form the core of Yasmin Khans interesting history of partition.

The book tells the story of Partition at a number of levels from the top level discussions between the Indian and British political establishments to personal accounts of those whose lives were effected by the tumultuous experience of partition. The account focuses primarily on the situation in the Punjab where a large Sikh population was an additional complexity when it became clear that India was likely to be partitioned. Bengal also receives coverage along with the experiences of Muslims in northern India who were to be outside Pakistan. Kashmir and Sindh receive less attention along with the North West Frontier Province which I was surprised to learn was a Congress stronghold.

The narrative is admirably even handed which is to say no side comes out of it well though Ghandi and Nehru certainly are more attractive politicians than Jinnah who doesn't seem to have thought through how partition would work in practice despite its theoretical appeal. The British were in a hurry to leave and made a hash of the difficult task of dividing the sub continent between Pakistan and India: an inevitable outcome of rushing it through in roughly 6 weeks. For the first time in 2 centuries the British army and administration seemed indifferent to disorder unless (of course) British subjects were threatened. The Indian army was split in two at the time it was most required to maintain order, extremist Hindu and Muslim middle class politicians stoked up fear and hatred and grotesque violence swept across northern India leaving up to a million dead and well over 10 million displaced.

Yasmin Khan, who was only 30 when she wrote this book, doesn't deliver an all encompassing history of partition but provides a reasonable narrative of the events with more specific anecdotal examples and some thoughtful analysis. She is especially nuanced about the ways in which partition affected different classes and localities, the horrendous experience of woman and the variety of efforts that the new Indian and Pakistani governments dealt with the millions of refugees. I did find it occasionally confusing as the narrative, anecdotes and analysis seemed to get a little mixed up and I was left with the feeling that the book could have been better organised. In short, the book is not a comprehensive history of partition but one that certainly gives the reader an insight into what happened and why it happened. Despite its short comings I look forward to Yasmin Khans next book.
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15 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Biased View Disguised as Objective History, January 27, 2013
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This review is from: The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan (Paperback)
Please don't consider this book "objective" history. It's gotten great press, and it contains some valuable information, but reader beware: Yasmin Khan has a definite pro-Muslim bias. Her version of Partition is one deliberately shaped to make Muslims appear the victims of Hindus. Khan is smart enough not to make overtly prejudiced or inflammatory statements--how credible a historian would she be in that case? Her biases comes through in her selection of the facts. She repeatedly portrays Hindus carrying out violence during the Partition, while Muslims are for the most part terrified victims--running from this village, slaughtered in that town. Naturally she must describe Muslim violence to some extent, in the interest of credibility and conscience, one hopes, and to some extent she does portray the violence against Hindus as well, but the preponderance of her examples describe Hindus perpetrating violence and Muslims suffering at their hands. In one chapter,almost every attack noted is carried out by Hindus. I kept waiting for an example of Muslim violence and was shocked her sympathies for Muslims were so blatantly displayed. Khan is the granddaughter of a Muslim League politician of the 40s, and though she describes herself as being distant from those politics, not all her loyalties can be left behind. Curiously, in some instances when Khan describes atrocities committed against Hindus, she will not name the group who commits them. Instead of using the noun "Muslim," the attack on Hindus is simply described as if carried out by an anonymous force. Where she can, she will avoid assigning blame to Muslims and will spare them the slightly mocking tone she occasionally uses with Hindu leaders. Khan's biases are insidiously wrought, and her dishonesty is subtle. She will not allow herself to be accused of overt bias, and it seems she does see Muslims as other than just victims, to some small extent, because she is critical of Pakistan at moments. She does admit to instances of Muslim League violence and gangsterism. Still this does not detract from her general portrayal of Hindus as the villains. She never addresses the glaring point that tens of millions of Muslims continue to live in India today, while virtually no Hindus are left in Pakistan, having fled West Punjab within weeks of Partition, threatened with massacre in a Muslim land. How's that for victimization? An objective historian would have examined that phenomenon as a significant point, not neglected it. Khan's mentor, the historian Ian Talbot, is even more biased than her, and in his book on Lahore and Amritsar you can see it's because he sees the Muslims of West Punjab as an underclass who finally had a chance to overthrow the Hindu upper classes with Partition. With Khan you don't even glimpse that class sympathy. With her, its presumably ethnic ties, blood ties--the most visceral ties--the very ties that resulted in the bloodshed of Partition--that keep her biases alive despite the layers of elite education over it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No ax-grinding here, November 3, 2012
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This review is from: The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan (Paperback)
Although I'm not qualified to speak with authority on the subject of this book, I have read fairly extensively in Indian history, and I've traveled widely in Pakistan. This is the only book devoted solely to the Partition that I've read, so I can't make comparisons offered by other reviewers; I will simply note that I found Khan's book to be informative and devoid of nationalist, religious, or racial biases. Long before the British Raj, the Indian Subcontinent had been an ever-changing map of conquest and cobbled empires. A single India has never existed on the multi-ethnic, polyglot Subcontinent, save in the superficial sense of evanescent lines on maps. Nor did Partition succeed in creating more-natural polities: witness the departure of Bangladesh from Pakistan, and great internal discords bounded by the arbitrary Durand and Radcliffe lines.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Erudite reading, February 18, 2008
By 
Farseem Mohammedy (Hamilton, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
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This is a well-researched and well-written book on a very touchy issue of the division of the Indian sub-continent. A well-biased version as well. The author took pains to dissect the various sources, taking into account their biases and prejudices, and tried to portray the true unfoldings of the game the British played, which they thought played very cunningly. People are still suffering from the left-over mess, be it in India-Pakistan, be it in middle-east.
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The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan
The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan by Yasmin Khan (Paperback - November 5, 2008)
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