Title: A Moment Comes I Author: Jennifer Bradbury I Publisher: Antheneum Books for Young Readers
Young Adult literature is defined by the American Library Association as fiction that would be appropriate for children between the ages of 12 to 18. A branch of the American Library Association known as the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) offers the following synopsis for A Moment Comes:
Lives collide when three teens from different backgrounds become ensnared in the turmoil of the India-Pakistan partition.
Actual Plot Summary: This is a story of three teens whose lives interweave during the last months before India is divided into India and Pakistan.
Tariq is a young Muslim man who dreams of going to Oxford so that he can receive a Western education like the great men of India (Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah) all have. His family is preparing for relocation into Pakistan and if he moves with them, his dreams of Oxford will never be realized. During this historic and personal turmoil, Tariq has been recommended by his teacher to assist an Englishman and cartographer by the name of Mr. Darnsley. Darnsley has been sent by the British government to help draw the borders between the two emerging nations.
Anupreet (Anu) is a young Sikh woman who is becoming ever more vulnerable to the violence that has increased between Hindus/Sikhs and Muslims. She has already just barely escaped a violent attack on her virtue that left her with a cut across her face, and her parents are fearful because in spite of the scar on her cheek, her beauty attracts a lot of unwanted attention. Her father arranges to have Anupreet work as a maid to Mrs. Darnsley and her daughter as a way of keeping her safe.
Margaret is a young British woman who has been shipped off to India to escape the backlash of a scandal created when she had an affair with an American soldier of no connection. Her actions have hurt the family's reputation and Mrs. Darnsley believes that if Margaret goes to India to help the Indian population as Lady Mountbatten and her daughter Pamela have done during this period of transition, it can redeem her in the eyes of British high-society. Margaret is rebellious in nature but also longs to help those in need as she did during WWII. She is, however, initially very resentful of having to go to India. She believes the culture is backward, but she adapts pleasantly to her surroundings and finds herself drawn to many aspects of the Indian way of life.
The story deals with a love triangle that develops between the three young adults even as they are influenced by the politics, violence and changing attitudes of the Indian/Pakistani people.
This young adult book has earned a Young Teen rating for infrequent intervals of inappropriate language and suggestive themes that include violence and sex. It receives five stars for story development.
Review : Overall, this is a story that I can recommend for children between the ages of fifteen and eighteen – although the recommendations come with some reservations attached. Regarding those misgivings, it is important to remind the young people reading this book that the narrative holds a distinct political perspective of a historic event in which many Americans lack fluency.
Because this story is historical fiction, it contains a lot of passionate judgment regarding the India-Pakistan partition. I, in fact, had to do research in order to verify how much opinion was overshadowing fact before I could properly review A Moment Comes. It's fair to assume that my age and wisdom affords me better understanding of the partition than the average high school freshman has, and that is the problem. This book may very well act as a young adult's introduction to the topic, and so the strong opinions running through the story will resonate and encourage judgments that may not actually be fair or accurate.
The story does a good job of providing impartial insight about the building tensions between Muslim and Hindu Indians leading up to independence and provides accurate examples of riots, gang activity and, frankly, mass murders committed by both sides without being graphic or pejorative. Really, the only overt scorn comes at the expense of the British involvement in the region as is offered through the invention of the Darnsley family. Per the author, the Darnsley family provides a venue for fictionalized accounts of Lord and Lady Mountbatten.
(FYI – Lady Mountbatten was an intimate companion of Nehru. Lord Mountbatten once said of his marriage, "Edwina and I spent all our married lives getting into other people's beds." Take that for what it is worth.)
Keeping in mind that the author sets up the three main characters to act as representatives of their cultures, I thought there was extreme caution on the part of Jennifer Bradbury to depict Tariq and Anupreet respectfully if not flawless. Be clear, any wrong doing on either character's part was because of their victimhood and their victimhood comes as a result of British greed and then disregard. Based solely on such portrayals, there are certain depictions of the British characters that I personally found objectionable for the bias that they revealed. And this is not to suggest that this was merely a two dimensional good vs. evil because there is certainly some attempt to provide depth, but the British contribution to stability in the region remains all but unexpressed in this book.
There are two specific themes that I find altogether lacking.
The first problem I have with A Moment Comes is a particular attitude of self-loathing that Mr. Darnsley exhibits throughout the book regarding the India-Pakistan partition. Long diatribes placed strategically throughout establish the premise that the British viewed their holdings and positions in India as inappropriate, and I find this to be a wholesale revision of history.
The British were not in favor of partition, they recognized that the end of their authority would mark the beginning of decline and unrest, and they were never in favor of self-rule. These first two points are presented accurately in the narrative but the last issue is sort of lost in the shuffle. I see no evidence in my research of any self-effacement on the part of British representatives whatsoever.
Seriously, I want you to consider this. In the year 2014, British citizens still laughingly refer to America as the Colonies. Does it follow therefore that they are bereaved over their actions in India? The too rapid withdrawal of the British and the division of the nation into India/Pakistan was at the insistence of Muhammad Ali Jinnah and by most accounts it was a train wreck. The British would recognize this point and would be hesitant to blame themselves.
So the persistent theme that it's "…only fair that we do our bit to clean up the mess and look defeated in the bargain. Least we can do…" doesn't ring true and would only be accepted by an American audience that is unaccustomed to British irony which is a special mixture of glib pragmatism and contempt. I'd sure like to see some kind of citation on the author's theory to show that the Brits were truly reconciled to the chaos and self-destruction before I could recommend this book with no reservations.
The second objectionable theme on display is the pervasive contempt towards Western European women and the physical characteristics of Western European women.
Forget the lazy-minded stereotypes the author invokes regarding wealth and superiority which she associates with British "privilege" for a moment. For this author, the character Anupreet is an exceptionally lovely young Indian woman, but it is not enough to merely describe Anu's gift of superior beauty. In order to pay homage, the author seems driven to disdain for the physical characteristics associated with Anglo-Saxons…this to such an extent that the derision becomes mildly disconcerting.
While it is true that Anu's character is written as smitten with the fair features of Margaret – a device used to bolster the idea of Anu's guileless beauty – Margaret is described as vain, petty and envious of Anu while at the same time struggling with her respect for Anu as a companion.
Tariq acts as ultimate judge and jury of feminine beauty in the story and finds himself deeply in love with Anu for her great splendor while acknowledging the cultural hopelessness of such a relationship between a Muslim man and a Sikh woman. It's actually a very interesting insight into cultural differences and makes this book worth reading. Determining that he could never pursue Anu romantically, he turns his attentions to Margaret. Margaret is infatuated with Tariq. As she's British, she apparently shows little reticence in signaling her attraction.
Tariq wants to go to Oxford and is irate that Mr. Darnsley rejects any consideration of sponsoring him. Be clear, Darnsley refuses Tariq not because Tariq isn't good enough for Oxford but because Oxford isn't good enough for Tariq…another example of Darnsley's over-the-top self-loathing. For this, Tariq grows taciturn in his anger and recounts how easy it would be to have his way with Margaret as a means to an end. Tariq entertains a PG fantasy of Margaret's submission to Tariq as punishment for Darnsley's rejection and this cold calculation is meant to show how desperate he is to get himself to England.
This diminishment of Margaret's worth is only heightened by Tariq's self-described revulsion for Margaret's physical characteristics which are representative of Anglo-Saxons. He finds her pale skin revolting, colorless, translucent, veiny, and doughy. The author completely misses the mark while drawing on her point of subjectivity and preference as it relates to an attraction toward the opposite sex versus the outright cruelty on display in this story. I would suggest that young Caucasian readers might deserve better treatment than this.
So the greatest value of this book may very well be the clear lesson that no matter how submissive you are in reparation for the crime of European descent, it will never be enough for those who are intent on hating.
I can't imagine a woman of any other race being objectified in this way without overt editorial condemnation by an author, but again, the reader should take that for what it is worth. Writing disparagingly about a race's physical characteristics may be edgy when it's an adult audience, but it's borderline sadistic when aimed at children. Luckily, the intended audience is just mature enough to appreciate what I perceive as the underlying bigotry displayed in the plot if they can be coached not to take the loathing personally.
With these flaws in mind, the book is still a very interesting read – not only for the value of understanding Post WWII India, but also for the artistic example of race baiting in America.