Book Name: The Miraculous True History Of Nomi Ali
Author: Uzma Aslam Khan
Book Blurb: Nomi and Zee are Local Borns—their father a convict condemned by the British to the Andaman Islands, their mother shipped off with him. The islands are an inhospitable place, despite their surreal beauty. In this unreliable world, the children have their friend Aye, the pet hen Priya and the distracted love of their parents to shore them up from one day to the next. Meanwhile, within the walls of the prison, Prisoner 218 D wages a war on her jailers with only her body and her memory.
When war descends upon this overlooked outpost of Empire, the British are forced out and the Japanese move in. Soon the first shot is fired and Zee is forced to flee, leaving Nomi and the other islanders to contend with a new malice. The islands—and the seas surrounding them—become a battlefield, resulting in tragedy for some and a brittle kind of freedom for others, who find themselves increasingly entangled in a mesh of alliances and betrayals.
Ambitiously imagined and hauntingly alive, The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali writes into being the interwoven stories of people caught in the vortex of history, powerless yet with powers of their own: of bravery and wonder, empathy and endurance. Uzma Aslam Khan’s extraordinary new novel is an unflinching and lyrical page-turner, an epic telling of a largely forgotten chapter in the history of the subcontinent.
Review: The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali centres around the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. This region has remained unexplored in fiction even though it has a lot to offer in terms of its rich cultural and colonial history.
Uzma Aslan Khan picks up bits and pieces from history and weaves a great fictional narrative. She is a powerful writer and her voice never falters. The selection of subject matter is par excellence because the fundamental factor in selecting a topic should be its obscurity. What’s the point in penning down cliched tales?
The book starts with the introduction of children, Nomi and Zee who are caught amidst the Japanese invasion of the Andaman Islands. Their father Haider Ali and other point of view characters help in furthering the narrative. The book is centred around a Muslim family but given the colonial past of the Andaman islands, the tales of Japanese soldiers and the British are also included in rich detail.
The novel delves deep into the prisoner system of the Andamans and how the convicts managed to live despite a different invader. Their lives don’t change much and they soon adapt to the new Japanese soldiers even though the friction keeps boiling to the surface resulting in conflicts.
The only thing missing in this otherwise brilliant tale is the emotional connect that a book must have with the reader. The narrative (eve though error free) fails to do so and comes across as a detached account of a far off and unknown place.
“In the courthouse had sat her mother, with a face like a cloud on the morning after a heavy rain. The prisoner has spent her life following the sun behind it. If she is never to see the face again, what is there to see?”
There are vivid descriptions of how a prisoner is dealt with and it makes for a heart wrenching read. The book is basically a testimony to the resilience of the human spirit that never gives up, sometimes biding its time when the going is tough and fighting at other times eventually waiting for the sun to rise again.