Title: Witness the Night
Author: Kishwar Desai
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Beautiful Books (15 April 2010)
Set in: Jalandhar, India
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
How does one avoid the Tyranny of dreams? The footsteps that keep taking you back to a house full of ghosts, where every window has a face staring from it, each face once beloved and known, now with bloodied eyes and grey lips, their hands drooping, bodies limp, yet yearning. They are all silent. The thick bile of sadness oozing from their hearts has regurgitated into their throats and blocked their voices, their pale shadowy hair seems like seaweed, green and stringy, floating in the air. Yet, all around their collapsed bodies is the scarlet odour of fresh killing, the meat at their feet is newly shredded for the dogs, which are peculiar and never bark. They do not even nudge the meat. Do they know whose flesh it is? How can they tell? Does human flesh taste different? Is there some loyalty hidden in the DNA of animals that allows them to differentiate? Nothing in the house is as it should be, because now another smell permeates and rises, the smell of burning flesh. (Pg. 1)
Set in small town Jullundur (Jalandhar) in Punjab, Witness the Night is the story of a 14 year old girl Durga caught in a nightmare and a 45-year-old social worker Simran who is working hard to find out the truth. When 13 people from a rich and prominent family are killed one night, 14-year-old Durga, the daughter of the family and the only survivor, is the main suspect.
When Simran, a fiercely independent and outspoken social worker arrives in Jullunder to speak with Durga and find out the truth from her, she realizes that the incident is not as straight forward as it seems. Durga looks like a scared child but she keeps mum about the incident. It is up-to Simran to find out the truth on her own. As she tries to uncover the truth, she finds that the relationship of Durga with her family has sinister undertones to it.
I cannot tell you how much I loved this book. It deals with a very important subject about female infanticide and the place of women in a conservative society. I could tell the author is passionate about the subject. But in no way does it get overbearing or boring. It’s also a page turning mystery where we are kept wondering till the end about how it happened. Although we know what happened by the first page itself, it’s still a mystery about why someone would wipe an entire family out.
The book is written from 2 viewpoints, Durga’s and Simran’s. While Durga’s writing is serious and dark, Simran’s is sarcastic and funny at times. She is a very interesting lady and I especially enjoyed her interactions with her mother. Overall this is a mystery that is different from many mysteries out there because not only is it page turning but it also deals with a very important subject with honesty and fearlessness.
My review doesn’t do the book justice. You have to read it to see how wonderful it is. Highly recommended. Witness the Night is the winner of 2010 Costa First Novel Award.