In August 1947, the British colony of India was divided into the separate independent countries of India and Pakistan. Seen through the eyes of three young narrators, A Moment Comes tells a story about the tensions of the days just before the partition. Margaret's father, a cartographer, is dispatched from England to India in order to help Lord Mountbatten draw the boundary lines for the forthcoming countries. He hires Tariq as an aide, and Anupreet as a domestic assistant to his wife and daughter, Margaret. Spoiled Margaret is by turns bored with and fascinated by India. Bright young Tariq, Muslim and son of a jeweler, dreams of studying in England. Lovely, shy Anupreet worries about the scar on her face, her family, and other Sikhs during this time of turmoil. These three narrators Anupreet, Margaret, and Tariq are very different, yet they are also united by their shared adolescence in a time of turbulence.
These disparate characters are thrust together in the Punjab region the spans both India and Pakistan; a place where religious tensions are running high in anticipation of the partition. Through their eyes, we see the violence of that time ebb and flow around them and its contrast to the relative tranquility that reigned before. Anupreet worries about her hotheaded brother, and about becoming a victim of the street violence that she sees all around her. Tariq tries to avoid confrontation but is sometimes pressured into bad situations. Margaret, largely insulated from the violence by her parents and her position, is shocked by the confusion, disorder and tragedy she sees around her, as whole communities are uprooted and migrating in anticipation of the partition.
By turns, we get to see the personal and private loyalties and struggles of each young person as public tensions run high before the partition. Ties of family, friendship, religion and ambition pull at the three teens. Tariq in particular is torn between following his Muslim family to Pakistan and staying with his employer to try and fulfill his dream of studying at Oxford. Devoted to her family, Anupreet is dealing with the scar on her face and the events that caused it. Margaret is frustrated by her parents and is conscious of the scandal leading up to her life in India. Their stories touch throughout the book merely by the fact of their proximity; but it is their ability to finally see each other as people, rather than as social roles or as a means to an end, that allow them to ultimately unite in order to resolve an issue of life and death.
It is a testament to Jennifer Bradbury's writing that, even when her characters' actions are unlikeable, their motivations for those actions never seem inexplicable. She thoughtfully builds her three main characters into unique individuals with believable stories and points of view. By exploring their thoughts, feelings and reactions to the activities around them, we really get inside the characters' minds. Also, Bradbury's ability to evoke the sights, smells and emotions of India in 1947 is remarkable. The small details such as Margaret's reaction to the taste of tamarind ring true to the characters, but also to the time and place in which the book is set. In addition, her incorporation of historical people and events, such as Lady Mountbatten and the train from Amritsar, into her fictionalized narrative, lends an air of reality to the book and facilitates the reader's immersion in the narrative. Reading A Moment Comes is an evocative, compelling experience.
It serves as a compelling history lesson - as well as instruction in current politics - as tensions between India and Pakistan continue, but the realism and multidimensionality of the characters make this book a compelling read separate from those educational components. This book is heartily recommended to Young Adult readers and those who enjoy Young Adult books.
This review is from the August 21, 2013 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.
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