Twelve-year-old Nisha and her twin, Amil, know little about their mother, who died while giving birth. But Nisha yearns for her nonetheless, and at night, Nisha pours her feelings into her diary entries, which are written as letters to her mother. At first, she writes of daily events such as Amil’s etchings and their father’s long days working as a doctor. But it’s 1947, and India has just won its independence from Britain, and soon Nisha’s life will change in ways she never could have imagined.
India is about to be partitioned into two countries based on religion. India will be for Hindus, while Muslims will live in the new country known as Pakistan. Nisha’s home will be part of Pakistan, and because her father is Hindu, their small family must travel cross-country to India by foot. The toll of the arduous journey is most eloquently expressed through Amil’s physical deterioration rather than an impersonal accounting of miles and terrain, and this process is particularly wrenching for Nisha as her mother was Muslim. Nisha is by nature quiet and reflective, and her diary reveals her deep emotional attunement to her family.
Overall, the important historical and political events that drive The Night Diary are believably muted through the lens of a girl with little exposure to the larger world, making this uniquely personal story similar to other portrayals of young refugees such as Andrea Davis Pinkney’s The Red Pencil.