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When Bernie sets off with his brother, Hatem, to say goodbye to their dying grandmother in the mountain town of Budaun, in Uttar Pradesh, he does not suspect that he will also have to bid farewell to the way of life he has always known. Upon his return to more populous regions, Bernie discovers that race riots have broken out between the Muslim and Hindu factions of India, and the long-lasting peace in the country has been shattered.
Bernie is just an agriculture student trying to get back to college, uninvolved in the seething tensions stirred up by the impending creation of Pakistan and the brutal enmity between religious groups. This does not, unfortunately, mean that he can remain aloof. His perilous journey forces him to witness unbearable violence against innocent bystanders and rioters alike, and he is forced to fight for his life, committing acts he would never have dreamed of under normal circumstances.
Both political and poignant, touching and terrifying, this sweeping novel sets one man's struggle to grow up and come to terms with the horrors of his reality against the fierce backdrop of the British withdrawal from India and the partition that formed Pakistan. It illustrates not only the immediate political realities of the situation, but also the long-lasting personal effect upon the people who managed to live through it.