Skip to main content




Three sisters find their lives changed forever during the tumultuous, violent partition of India in Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s gripping new novel, INDEPENDENCE.

The book opens in August 1946. Deepa, Priya and Jamini Ganguly have lived their entire lives in the Bengali village of Ranipur. Their father, Nabakumar, is a respected doctor committed to the cause of Indian independence, though his passion for helping the less fortunate means that the Gangulys are in constant financial straits. Their mother, Bina, resents the obligations that take her husband away from her family and plots advantageous marriages for her three daughters. Deepa is the luminous, favored child, who “scintillates in her confident beauty.” The perpetually overlooked Jamini is “pale with virtue and suppressed longing” (and barely concealed resentment). Finally, there’s the independent Priya, who “glows, passionate with purpose” and dreams of becoming a physician like her father.

"Divakaruni’s novel is rich with historical detail, and the chaos that engulfed the Indian subcontinent during the Partition is a vivid backdrop to the stories of her three main characters."

Though Deepa is the family beauty, it seems that Priya is most likely to land a wealthy husband, thanks to her blossoming relationship with Amit, the son of an old (and rich) family friend. But then disaster strikes during a much-anticipated family trip to Calcutta. The visit, tragically, coincides with Direct Action Day, a protest organized by the Muslim League, which is advocating for a Muslim homeland separate from an independent India. Demonstrations quickly turn violent, and the clashes between Hindus and Muslims leave thousands dead, including Nabakumar.

Left reeling from the loss of their father, the Ganguly sisters begin to drift apart. Each sees herself as responsible for his death. As the family relationships fray, India itself is wrenched by waves of religious and political violence, and the sisters are caught up in the turmoil in surprising ways. The lyrical, multilayered story unfolds in alternating chapters told from each woman’s point of view. Priya struggles to reconcile her love for Amit with her desire for her own freedom. But like her country, she’ll discover that independence comes at a cost. Deepa makes a devastating choice when she falls in love with a Muslim man. Her clandestine marriage forces her to leave her family, her faith and her homeland behind. And the long-suffering Jamini dedicates herself to caring for Bina, while still nursing a hope that the love she so desires will one day come to her, even though the man who has her heart remains perpetually out of reach.

Divakaruni’s novel is rich with historical detail, and the chaos that engulfed the Indian subcontinent during the Partition is a vivid backdrop to the stories of her three main characters. However, at its core, INDEPENDENCE is a book about family and the sometimes tenuous bonds that link siblings together. The sisters often find themselves at odds. (Priya and Jamini have a particularly fraught relationship). But in the end, they realize that although their devotion to each other may be sorely tested, it cannot be completely broken.

INDEPENDENCE will appeal to readers with a particular interest in this time of India’s history. But even those who know little of the period will find themselves fascinated by Divakaruni’s story of three sisters, each strong in her own way, who must navigate a world that has changed, seemingly overnight, in ways they could not have imagined. Over the course of this briskly paced book (the action unfolds over just 18 turbulent months), Deepa, Priya and Jamini each face almost unimaginable loss. But ahead of them is the future, and whatever it holds.

At the end of the book, Priya comes face-to-face with her idol, the Indian freedom fighter Sarojini Naidu. “Women like you are the ones for whom we fought and died, the ones who will transform India,” Sarojini tells her. “You must carry the flag forward. You may fall from time to time. We all did. What is important is to get up again.”

Reviewed by Megan Elliott on January 20, 2023

by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni