Book Review- The Radiance of a Thousand Suns, Manreet Sodhi Someshwar

Book – The Radiance of a Thousand Splendid Suns

Author – Manreet Sodhi Someshwar

Release date- 25 June 2019

Genre – A literary thriller

A book which on the surface seems to be about a daughter’s determination to complete her dead father’s unfinished book is much more than that. Yes, Niki, the daughter leaves no stone unturned to fulfil her father’s wish, but the book is more than a description of just that. It draws the reader’s attention to various issues which most of us either tend to overlook or accept as a given.  In that way, It makes the reader think; it makes the reader reflect.

The story takes the reader back in time to the horrific days of the partition of the country in 1947 and its aftermath. It moves further to describe the pogrom of 1984 and drives home an extremely valid point which is how human lives are always sacrificed at the altar of religious and political agendas. It reiterates the fact that times may change, people may change, but this sad reality can never change. Religion, politics will always be used to incite people, to divide them and to spread hatred and violence. The book draws a parallel between three significant events which have taken place in the history of humankind, starting with the horrors of 1947, moving on to 1984 and then to as recent as 2011.  All three point in the same direction which is that people with divisive agendas will always be there and will prevail over reason and logic.  It is up to the rest of us as to how we deal with them. The link that the author has established gives a lot of food for thought.

 Another valid point which Manreet makes is the impact of such events on women. She points out that the role of women at such times is conveniently forgotten or maybe isn’t even recognized in the first place. It is always the men who get talked about. The spotlight is always on those famous men who laid down their lives when a nation got built or when a cause was fought. Why doesn’t anyone ever talk about women?  Don’t they suffer, when they face poverty, terror,  when they lose their husbands, their children when their daughters, sisters or friends or they get raped or abused? History doesn’t talk about them; the world ignores them. Why? Is it because of the age-old patriarchy, the bane of our societies? 

And then as if giving a retort to all this Manreet says, ’A woman’s answer to destruction is to create.’

Here she seems to be mocking the men by telling them to go on destroying because a woman will go on creating. I love this line.

The book has some incredibly strong women from Biji to Nooran to Jyot and of course, Niki. They all face adversity, but that never comes in the way of their courage, their resolve, their goal.  The book starts with Biji and Nooran rushing to the hospital amid the mayhem of the Emergency and its sterilization programme to get Niki’s mother to the hospital in time for her delivery. Though they lose her despite their best efforts, the courage and grit of the women cannot be missed.

All the women characters are daring, bold, ready to stand up to injustice no matter what. They don’t fear anyone. If Nooran has the guts to stand up to the men who try to molest a young Niki, then Niki dares to stand up to those who try to terrorize Jyot in New York.

And then there is  Jyot, a character whose presence is felt even in her absence. She is the mystery woman who Niki wants to find. The story of her life is heartbreaking, heart-wrenching. One cannot believe that she has been subjected to so much grief, so much pain in one lifetime. One is forced to question the powers that be. Why couldn’t she have lived happily ever after? To go through the tragedy of losing your family twice in a lifetime, cannot be justified. I had tears in my eyes as her story unravelled itself to me.

The book also makes the reader wonder about one more thing. Would men still go to war, still incite violence and hatred if they had to go through the experience of giving physical birth to a living being, a child? If they had to subject themselves to the throes of childbirth, would they still find it easy to take lives? Would they still be able to kill and plunder mercilessly?

The book, while questioning religion, politics and patriarchy tries to in a way soften the blow by making references to the poetry of Bulleh Shah, the legend of Heer and weaves them beautifully into the narrative.

All through the book, there are references to the Mahabharta which keep reminding the reader that certain things have not changed in this world and probably never will. For instance, the ease with which men give up on women, sacrifice them and walk away without a backward glance. And how it is their deeds, their so-called acts of bravery and sacrifice which are remembered till posterity and all that woman do is conveniently brushed under the carpet.

A beautiful book, very well written and once you pick it up you can’t put it down. At least that’s what happened with me.

Three different times, spread apart by several years, by generations but the story remains the same, and the roots can be traced back to the Mahabharata.

History repeats itself!

What do you think?

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  • Pam
    September 14, 2020

    I agree with your analysis. We discussed it at length in our book club and even spoke to Manreet in US . One could find so many similarities in the stories told to us by our parents.

    • Sangeeta Relan
      September 14, 2020

      Yes absolutely! I am glad you liked it.