House of Caravans
A marvelous debut novel exploring the fractures caused by the Partition of India, as well as the legacy and contemporary parallels of sectarian violence around the world.
Lahore, British India. 1943. As World War rages, resentment of colonial rule grows, and with it acts of rebellion. Animated by idealistic dreams of an independent India, Chhote Nanu agrees to plant a bomb intended for the British superintendent of police. Some four years later, following a torturous imprisonment, Chhote flees the city as it descends into violence. Carrying the young son of his murdered wife through scenes of unspeakable bloodshed, he encounters his brother, Barre Nanu, the two of them caught between a vanishing past in the new nation of Pakistan and a profoundly uncertain future in India.
Kanpur, India. 2002. Following the death of his grandfather, Barre Nanu, Karan Khatri returns from New York to join his sister in their childhood home, which has been transformed by the embittered Chhote Nanu into a hostel for Hindu pilgrims. When their mother arrives from Delhi, Karan and Ila learn that their fathers were two different men—one Hindu, one Muslim—relationships with both of whom were doomed by familial bias and prejudice, the siblings resolve to reconnect, and to understand the painful twist and turns in the family’s story.
Moving back and forth from the tumultuous years surrounding Partition to the era of renewed global sectarianism following 9/11, this extraordinary historical novel, “Tolstoyan in its scope” (Ha Jin), portrays a family and nations divided by the living legacy of colonialism. Richly evocative and timely, House of Caravans will endure in the ways only the best literature does.
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Praise and Prizes
“Reminiscent of Zadie Smith's White Teeth... [a] moving evocation of life before, during, and after Partition and the past's immeasurable impact on the present.”
“Intense and evocative, this powerful debut historical saga recounts India’s partition throughout time to explore the profound intergenerational impacts of the event in nuanced and beautiful storytelling.”
“House of Caravans is an astonishing debut–the work of a master writer. Through finely wrought details and clever plotting, Shilpi Suneja illustrates how the reverberations of the 1947 Partition are felt across multiple generations. With her deft writing and her penetrating imagination, Suneja gifts us with a beautiful testament to the power of storytelling.”
“Tolstoyan in its scope, House of Caravans is a marvel of a novel. It copes with some major issues of our time, such as the mingling of races, colonization, rebellion, historical violence, migrations, and also love and remembrance. Shilpi Suneja writes with patience, subtlety, and intelligence. She is a genuine artist.”
“Grappling with themes of social injustice, immigrant life in the U.S., and the complicated bonds within extended families, Shilpi Suneja’s novel reveals a sincere, informed engagement with matters of political history and of human dignity.”
“These are characters I won’t forget, they burn with vivacity, and the scenes do too. I am happy to be among them. . . . This is a marvelous story and Shilpi Suneja’s voice livens it up.”
“Straddling two critical time periods of great violence and change on a global scale, Suneja’s novel weaves an intimate tale of two brothers—both brimming with regret, prejudice, sweetness and sorrow—as deftly as a spinner with golden thread. I can’t even begin to fully convey the complexities of this book—its richness, its tenderness, its intelligence—all in a story that pulls you into Suneja’s dreamy imagination. This is a novel that will make you marvel, think, and finally, break your heart.”
“A tale of kinship, violence, separation, and reunion, House of Caravans is rich and evocative, filled with unforgettable details of India at the end of colonial rule. The Partition is an enormous subject, and this is marvelous storytelling.”
“House of Caravans is an astonishing debut—the work of a master writer. Through finely wrought details and clever plotting, Shilpi Suneja illustrates how the reverberations of the 1947 Partition are felt across multiple generations. With her deft writing and her penetrating imagination, Suneja gifts us with a beautiful testament to the power of storytelling.”
“From intimate love stories to terrorist plots to the political intrigues of 1940s British India, Shilpi Suneja’s absorbing novel introduces a nuanced, sophisticated, and authentic voice that illustrates the human cost of colonialism and resilience of true love. Simultaneously set in 2002 and in the harrowing years before the violent creation of Muslim Pakistan and Hindu-majority India, House of Caravans recounts the story of four generations of a family whose members refuse to be defined by the limitations of their times, who dare to love and befriend across religious and class divides. This is a gorgeous and enjoyable tale, eschewing binary and easy definitions of identity, home, and family.”