Book Review: Witness the Night by Kishwar Desai

witnessWitness the Night by Kishwar Desai

Paperback

Copy sent by publisher

Simon & Schuster, 2013 (first published 2010)

Synopsis- In a small town in the heart of India, a young girl is found tied to a bed inside a townhouse where thirteen people lie dead. The girl is alive, but she has been beaten and abused. She is held in the local prison, awaiting interrogation for the murders she is believed by the local people to have
committed. Visiting social worker Simran attempts to break through the girl’s mute trance to find out what happened that terrible night. As she uncovers more and more, Simran realises that she is caught in the middle of a terrifying reality, where the unwanted female offspring of families are routinely disposed of. Brilliantly atmospheric, hauntingly real, this is a major debut from an exciting
new author

Review- In Kishwar Desai’s debut novel Witness the Night we are introduced to the controversial Indian social worker Simran Singh who has been called in to support a young woman accused of murdering her entire family. The girl is traumatised and distrusting of those around her. Simran is convinced the girl is a victim and not a murderer, but as she begins to dig into the dark secrets that the girl’s family concealed she uncovers intergenerational abuse of women, conspiracies and corruption.

Simran is a likeable character and I can imagine that in real-life someone like her would really cause some waves in India. She’s in her forties, she’s unmarried, has no children and loves her job. Once she realises that the girl is really a victim, she does everything she can, follows every lead available until she discovers the truth- no matter what the cost.

The girl, Durga, has a hard time trusting Simran, and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. With a missing sister, her family dead and now locked in an institution, Durga knows she’s up against a powerful force. Her one advocate, Simran Singh, is the only chance she has to escape the nightmare her family created.

I’ve read this series a little out of order, but after loving Desai’s second novel Origin of Species I was keen to read the next book in the Simran Singh series Sea of Innocence and was even more excited when the publisher sent me a copy of her first novel, Witness the Night. I knew it won the 2010 Costa First Novel Award, so I had high expectations. While I didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as Origin of Species (partly because I found the subject matter in this book very fascinating) I am glad I read it so that I could understand the very beginning of Simran and Durga’s relationship which continues to strengthen as the books go on. The common theme in the series is Simran’s interesting investigations and advocacy for women’s rights, which I admire. This book won’t be for everyone, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Indian literature and I just couldn’t pass this one up!

Overall Rating

3.5/5

“I really liked this”

Witness The Night can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

This book is on my list of Top 10 Books to Read When You Travel to India

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