|Albert Whitman Teen|
by Irfan Master
Is it ever acceptable to tell a lie?
Ask that question in a crowded room and you’d fracture the crowd into multiple camps of opinion, but ask that same question of Bilal’s best friends, and they would all agree—sometimes a lie is the right thing to protect the one you love. Thirteen-year-old Bilal isn’t so sure, but he’s sworn to control his own destiny. His father is dying of cancer, and it’s 1947. The India they have always known is about to split down the middle along religious and political lines. Hundreds and thousands will likely die, and the proof is in the streets—long time friends are fighting and minor skirmishes abound—India is a literal powder keg of tension. To protect his father from the knowledge that the country they love might also suffer a sort of death, Bilal, with the help of his band of friends, denies his father any visitors who may inform him of the upcoming Partition. Is this lie of omission the right thing to do?
While this novel is translated into English, there are many universal elements to the narrative. For instance, Bilal’s’ relationship with his friends is one that guys will certainly appreciate. And while the environment might make the day-to-day activities and hangouts of the boys a bit strange to teens in the U.S. of 2012, the banter and harassment between Manjeet, Vickesh, Jaghtar, Saleem, Chota and Bilal, as well as their fierce loyalty is a “guy trait” that boys can recognize and respect despite the distance in time or language. Secondary characters, like the Doctorji, and Mr. Mukherjee, are also important and well-developed, illustrating India’s heart, and the feelings of those who prefer peace over Partition. The author admirably uses irony, symbolism and humor, especially when Bilal, wise beyond his years, “calls out” the three holy men of the town who seek to scold him for his secrets. Mature readers will get a laugh out of this scene and at the same time appreciate Bilal’s humility, even though the holy men are clearly deserving of the criticism. From the first signs of division at the vendor’s stalls to the violent cock fight in the cemetery, readers will be on edge wondering about Bilal’s fate, and the fate of his father and friends. This novel will take readers on a journey to an India they might never experience. Those who are curious about world culture and history, or those who just want a great story about the bonds between boys who live like brothers should definitely add this book to their reading list.