Kishwar Desai’s unflinching fiction debut, Witness the Night (Penguin, May), speaks volumes to the heart and mind. Set in a small town in Northern India rooted in Punjabi culture, the book employs an unusual narrative structure incorporating diary entries and e-mails alongside the first-person account of social worker Simran Singh. While it is crime fiction in that the story revolves around a brutal killing and the incarceration of their daughter Durga, 14, as the only suspect, the story enlarges to embrace devastating social issues and to paint a portrait of a culture hewing to its (cruel) conditions as it tries to defy inevitable change. I can only agree with the Costa Award judges who proclaimed this its winner: “We were thrilled and exhilarated by this stunning debut.” I for one won’t forget its revelations and the last-minute punch to the gut it delivers.
Volume 259 Issue 22 05/28/2012