“Everybody lies. We all do it. Sometimes we lie because it makes us feel better and sometimes we lie because it makes others feel better.” (1) And so begins a grown man’s retelling of the story of the most pivotal moment in his youth when he dreamt up a lie, intended to bring a sense of peace to his dying father, that instead brought him a lifetime of regret and pain.
In the summer of 1947, Bilal lived in a market town on the dusty plains of Northern India. He loved reading his father’s precious books, running wild through the streets of the village with his three best friends, and hanging out in the vibrant market his father managed. But Bilal’s life was changing – his beloved father was dying and soon Bilal and his brother would be orphans. Bilal’s private grief was mirrored that summer by the rumored changes coming when the British would finally leave India after so many years of colonial rule, bringing uncertainty and the threat of violence to every corner of the country. As news of the coming partition spread, sectarian mistrust that had simmered for many centuries started to erupt, pitting neighbor against neighbor and upsetting the delicate balance of village life. Bilal’s father’s dream of a peaceful, united India, democratic and free from the British, appeared to be doomed, and Bilal could not bear the thought of his father’s deathbed hope being so cruelly dashed.
So Bilal decided to lie. To convince his father that India would be reborn whole, a united, democratic country free to face her future as her people – Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Sikh, and Jain – would choose. He enlisted the help of his loyal friends in an elaborate scheme to keep the truth from his father’s ears even as he faced danger on the very streets his family had lived for generations. But fate wasn’t in Bilal’s favor, and as his father slipped towards death, the fires of sectarian hatred consumed the hope, the home, and the dream Bilal had tried so desperately to save.
Debut author Irfan Master‘s A Beautiful Lie artfully captures both the loss of one boy’s innocence as deftly as it conveys the tumultuous, painful transmutation of a nation, played out through the eyes of one young boy living in one small market town. The book is at its best when Bilal, engaging and optimistic as he is, and his friends are together, being mischievous, fun-loving boys; but it also shines when they’re beginning to understand what the coming change will really mean for them, their friendship, and their future. Captivating supporting characters and detailed glimpses into village life add depth and dimension to Master’s tale, all of which provide fertile ground for the exploration of the universal truths of the human condition that make up the fabric of our very existence, no matter which country we call home.
- Posted by Cori