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A harrowing journey to the inevitable...,
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This review is from: Train to Pakistan (Paperback)
The summer of the Partition of India in 1947 marked a season of bloodshed that stunned and horrified those living through the nightmare. Entire families were forced to abandon their land for resettlement to Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India. Once that fateful line was drawn in the sand, the threat of destruction became a reality of stunning proportions. Travelers clogged the roads on carts, on foot, but mostly on trains, where they perched precariously on the roofs, clung to the sides, wherever grasping fingers could find purchase. Muslim turned against Hindu, Hindu against Muslim, in their frantic effort to escape the encroaching massacre. But the violence followed the refugees. The farther from the cities they ran, the more the indiscriminate killing infected the countryside, only to collide again and again in a futile attempt to reach safety. Almost ten million people were assigned for relocation and by the end of this bloody chapter, nearly a million were slain. A particular brutality overtook the frenzied mobs, driven frantic by rage and fear. Women were raped before the anguished eyes of their husbands, entire families robbed, dismembered, murdered and thrown aside like garbage until the streets were cluttered with human carnage.
The trains kept running. For many remote villages the supply trains were part of the clockwork of daily life, until even those over-burdened trains, off-schedule, pulled into the stations, silent, no lights or signs of humanity, their fateful cargo quiet as the grave. At first the villagers of tiny Mano Majra were unconcerned, complacent in their cooperative lifestyle, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and quasi-Christian. Lulled by distance and a false sense of security, the villagers depended upon one another to sustain their meager quality of life, a balanced system that served everyone's needs. There had been rumors of the arrival of the silent "ghost trains" that moved quietly along the tracks, grinding slowly to a halt at the end of the line, filled with slaughtered refugees.
When the first ghost train came to Mano Majra the villagers were stunned. Abandoning chores, they gathered on rooftops to watch in silent fascination. With the second train, they were ordered to participate in burying the dead before the approaching monsoons made burial impossible. But reality struck fear into their simple hearts when all the Muslims of Mano Majra were ordered to evacuate immediately, stripped of property other than what they could carry. The remaining Hindus and Sikhs were ordered to prepare for an attack on the next train to Pakistan, with few weapons other than clubs and spears. The soldiers controlled the arms supply and would begin the attack with a volley of shots. When the people realized that this particular train would be carrying their own former friends and neighbors, they too were caught, helpless in the iron fist of history, save one disreputable (Hindu) dacoit whose intended (Muslim) wife sat among her fellow refugees. The story builds impressive steam as it lurches toward destiny, begging for the relief of action. In the end, the inevitable collision of conscience and expediency looms like a nacreous cloud above the hearts of these unsophisticated men, a mere slender thread of hope creating unbearable tension.
I was impressed with the power of Singh's timeless narrative, as the characters are propelled toward a shattering climax, as potentially devastating as any incomprehensible actions of mankind's penchant for destruction. I was struck also, by the irony: how the proliferation of a rail system that infused previously unknown economic growth potential to formerly remote areas, also became the particular transport of Death. Only a few years earlier, a rail system in another part of the world carried innumerable Jews to Hitler's ovens, another recent barbaric use of Progress, originally intended to further enrich the potential accomplishments of the human race.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 19, 2012 7:20:54 PM PDT
a most eloquent review!
Posted on Sep 17, 2012 8:41:59 PM PDT
M. Gregory says:
You are an excellent writer - thanks for the great review!
In reply to an earlier post on Sep 17, 2012 9:00:33 PM PDT
Luan Gaines says:
Thank you. I have never forgotten the power of this book. LG
Posted on Aug 11, 2013 2:48:52 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 11, 2013 2:51:31 PM PDT
Lynda E. Boose says:
A beautifully written, truly eloquent reprise of this novel. And the closing comments on the train... that great, esp. 20th century symbol of human progress... were devastatingly insightful. After 9-11, perhaps the passenger airplane has now taken over the symbolic space of the 20th C. train . . . .
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 12, 2013 11:26:23 AM PDT
Luan Gaines says:
Lynda, thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. I was so new to reviewing at the time that I am now embarrassed for saying too much about the plot, but I still remember the impact the novel had on me at the time. I also agree with your 9/11 reference. Thanks so much for taking the time to offer remarks. LG
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