Every once in a while, a book comes along that causes the rest of the world to melt away leaving only the story. The characters become real people and the events of their lives take your breath away. Nisha’s War by Dan Smith is one of those books.
Over the three days I was reading it, I kept thinking about the book and when I could next get back to it. Once I had finished it, I had to take some time to just sit with the weight of the story and think about what I had experienced – a true book hangover. I couldn’t read or watch anything else for fear of spoiling the headspace I was in. The messages of this powerful story stayed with me, hovering, waiting to be unravelled even more.
This is a Second World War story from a new perspective. Nisha and her mother have just arrived in England from Malaya by way of a ship from Singapore. They have manged to escape horrendous Japanese attacks on their home and village at great personal cost. What Nisha has witnessed will stay with her forever – bombing, fire, death, and the loss of her father. Their only hope is that his mother, her grandmother, will take in her mixed-race granddaughter and her Indian mother.
Barrow Island is dark and cold – much like Nisha’s grandmother. She hesitates to accept this Anglo-Indian child into her home, wishing her son had chosen a different path – one that would have brought him home to her. When her mother falls ill, Nisha must navigate the island and nearby village, confront racism, form new relationships and try to make sense of her memories.
Nisha’s dreams lead her to the forbidden Weeping Tree on the edge of the cliff. What she discovers there will push her to work through all of her fears. With the help of some incredibly warm characters – Mrs Foster, the housekeeper; her new friend, Jamie; and Joy, an effervescent land girl – Nisha finds a connection to her father and his family.
The language of this story swirls effortlessly across the page. There is something about the craft of the sentence structure and choice of words that goes beyond storytelling. It is genuine and real. The wildness of the island, the power of the weather and water, the beauty and tragedy of the life Nisha left behind and the incredible emotion of her experiences build up a narrative that fills every corner of the reader’s imagination.
Nisha’s War is a story of hope and healing. Nisha’s terrible experiences will forever shape who she is but perhaps there is something else that will mould her into who she is meant to become.
I would strongly recommend Nisha’s War as a class read in Year 5+. Suitable for Upper Key Stage Two and secondary school children, not only will they be blown away by the story but it will prompt so much discussion about war, refugees, racism and new beginnings.
Thank you to Chicken House and Laura Smythe PR for the stunning book!
Take a look at some more reviews of books by Dan Smith:
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