Home / Books / Independence by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni | Book Review

Independence by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni | Book Review

Author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has been loved by readers for decades now for her lovely stories featuring women from the worlds old and new. Her books feature journeys of discovery for her characters as they search for their roots as well as their dreams. Here, at Thinkerviews platform we have reviewed following books from this author:

Her latest publication is a story of three sisters as they come of age in the turbulent times of India’s past – the years when India became independent. And paid the price for it through separation and communal violence that impacted millions of lives. Aptly named Independence, the book was on our reading list for some time and here are our thoughts on it on behalf of Team Thinkerviews.

Book Title : Independence
Author :
Published by : HarperCollins ( 2023)
William Morrow ( January 17)
# of Pages : 358 (Paperback) 288; 1217 KB (Kindle EBook) 288 (Hardcover) 640 Minutes (Audiobook)
# of Chapters : 28
Purchase Link(s) :

Book Cover:

Let us take a look at the cover page of this book.

Independence by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni | Book Cover

Independence by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni | Book Cover

The cover page of this book reminds me of an old-fashioned, hand-crafted quilt. The tiny stiches, the motifs of seal life including conch and fish are what our women have used for generations in their artwork. These are also, incidentally present at Bengali weddings and other auspicious occasions. The bottom half of the cover page shows the moon and the star, the wheel of Ashoka and other political motifs. But also a tiny boat in midst of the river carrying lives and hopes.

A beautifully elegant and visually appealing cover page that displays the world captured within…


The year is 1946 and in the sleepy village of Ranipur, sisters Deepa, Jamini and Priya are looking forward to their father Nobokumar’s homecoming. Nobokumar is a doctor and runs a clinic for the poor of Calcutta as well as one in Ranipur. The clinics often require financial helpt from his childhood friend Somnath, who is the prosperous, benevolent, prominent figure in Ranipur.

Somnath has only one son – Amit. Amit and Priya are best friends and to be sweethearts. But Jamini also loves Amit – quietly, covetously, jealously. Deepa is the beauty of the village and Priya has the brains and dreams of becoming a doctor like her father. But Jamini, with a lame leg, only wants to be loved, to be wanted, by her family and by Amit.

During Nobokumar’s visit, the family plans a trip to Calcutta. While the first days of this trip are all comfort and joy, the later days are marred by tragedy. Nobokumar is killed in the Hindu-Muslim riots and the family suddenly is looking at a very uncertain future. The three sisters have already started on very different paths from each other.

Deepa met Raza during their first Calcutta visit. And their romance blooms through her subsequent Calcutta visits to sell homemade quilts while trying to earn some money for the family. When their mother Bina learns of this, she banishes Deepa and Deepa leaves home for Calcutta. She ends up living with Salima, getting a job at the Muslim League party office. And eventually becomes Raza’s life partner with a new identity – Aliya. They move to Dacca – East Pakistan after independence and have a daughter Sameera. But a few months later, Raza is murdered. And now Deepa is facing dangers of discovery and oppressions. What will become of her and her infant daughter?

Priya is betrothed to Amit and with his family’s support appears for a medical entrance exam meanwhile, but she is not successful. Somnath encourages her to apply to a Women’s medical college in America and she is accepted there. But she had not told Amit about this. The upcoming separation and her lack of transparency leads to a fight and a rift, and he calls the engagement off. Priya travels to America, heartbroken. But over time, she learns to live in this strange place and may even have love of a good man. Until tragedy calls her home again. What path will she choose?

Jamini has stayed with her mother through all of this, as her sisters have left. When riots break out in their village, their house is burned, Jamini is attacked and injured, and they end up living with Somnath’s family. Here, Bina forces Amit to marry Jamini, and so her lifelong wish comes true. But does it? Will she ever get the love she has so longed for?

Views and Reviews:

This book is almost a surprising read with its almost thrifty, poetic storytelling in present tense. It gives you a feeling of being a witness of these turbulent times as events take place. It feels packed with emotions as some sentences are almost just words describing emotions rather than a series. I felt like a few years ago, the author would have taken the time to weave an elaborate world with three strands to create a book more voluminous, but this one packs a sense of urgency, of looming disaster, of a suspense and curiosity to peek around the corner.

Independence by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni | Book Cover

Independence by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni | Book Cover

Bengal is stage which comes alive in a few strokes as we see the beauty of this countryside, the simple, joyful and intricate lifestyle of its villages and the joy of celebrations to mark changing seasons and important occasions of human lives:

Picturesque Bengal countryside with dark Tamaal trees, thatched huts emerald with pumpkin vines, a cowherd playing a flute, a line of women balancing pots on their heads.

Season of goddess festivals, the months gentle and flowering, the music weaving through the air. Heat and dust recede, the rivers flex their muscles.

The poor in villages have a place to call home, even if it is just a hovel. They can live off the land or the river. When it is harvest time, or when a pond has to be dug or house built, someone will hire them. Most of all, they know where they belong. But in Calcutta, the poor have no roots, no hope.

Like a lot of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s books, this also shows us a world of women with threads of jealousy, desire, unrequited love and the bitterness tainting the relationships when sisters become rivals. On one hand, there is the strong bond of sisterhood, of the intimate knowledge only family holds, and on the other hand is the attraction of unknown, the tug of a danger, of an adventurous romance, of having a man for all your own. But is one complete without the other:

Her throat aches with loneliness. Can a man – even the one you love with all your heart – make up for the loss of culture, family, community, generations of tradition woven into  her blood?

The communal stress and riots that marked the years around the time of independence become the trigger for the changes in our characters’ lives. And so we see how quickly such events can snuff out the peace, happiness and way of simple lives such that nothing is ever the same again. How love and hatred are so intertwined in our lives that humans can’t seem to avoid acts of cruelty during such times:

Birth and death, serpents swallowing each other’s tails. A father dies to make space in the world for the child who is coming. When a nation is born, how many must then die?

So much love on one side, so much undeserved generosity. And on the other wrenching hands, devouring eyes, the whine of bullets boring into chests like poisonous metals bees. How do you learn to live in a world that holds such contradictions.

The author weaves in the current affair of those times. One important part being how Priya looks up to Sarojini Naidu as inspiration and icon for women of that time. Some of the best lines of the book are from Sarojini Naidu’s speeches and quotes:

I am not ready to die because it takes infinitely more courage to live.

Education is an immeasurable, beautiful, indispensable atmosphere in which we live and move and have our being.

And I think she is symbolises the hope and endurance of India as it survived the violence, the trying times and became the biggest thriving, chaotic democracy that it is. In spite of everything, the sisters do manage to build a life of sorts and we reach the end this book on a note of hope:

Here is a river. Here is a wind rising.

Here is a village. Here is the year.

The river is time, ebbing, flooding.

The wind is memory, it can carry flowers, it can carry flames.

The village is the world, and you are at its center. The year is now.

What will you do with it? What will you do?


A tale of three sisters as they propel themselves on perilous paths with unforeseen consequences while they look for love and dreams and purpose in life….

ThinkerViews Rating:

Around 7.5 stars out of 10.

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Over To You:

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