At The Time of Partition

Moniza Alvi’s new book-length poem At The Time of Partition (Bloodaxe) was the first book I bought last month from Nottingham’s wonderful new independent Five Leaves Bookshop. Short-listed for the TS Eliot prize, the poem weaves family stories from a terrible and life-changing period for the millions were caught up in the new divide between India and Pakistan. I’ve long been an admirer of Alvi’s poetry, from her first collection, A Country at My Shoulder (1993), onwards. She has a distinctive ability, in evidence here once more, to explore identity and capture key moments in people’s lives, examining them through the minutiae of everyday events: ‘the pleating of a sari/… The sweeping of the hallway.’ Her powerful new work focuses on a family’s decision about whether they should stay in India or cross the thin line to the new country, Pakistan. She unravels the questions, doubts, rumours and heart-breaking consequences that are all bound up in this momentous decision with a deftness and delicacy which should bring her many new admirers. 

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