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Sunlight on a Broken Column

3.81 of 5 stars 3.81  ·  rating details  ·  207 ratings  ·  23 reviews
Laila, orphaned daughter of a distinguished Muslim family, is brought up by her orthodox aunts who keep purdah. At 15, she moves to the home of a "liberal" uncle in Lucknow. Here, during the 1930s, as the struggle for independence sharpens, Laila is surrounded by relatives and university friends caught up in politics. But Laila is unable to commit herself to any cause: her ...more
Paperback, 319 pages
Published January 1st 1992 by Penguin Books,India (first published 1961)
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Best Indian Books
268th out of 589 books — 1,783 voters
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Books about the Indian Subcontinental Partition
51st out of 72 books — 56 voters

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Community Reviews

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An Indian partition and love story all in one, how can you go wrong? This is the one book that I loved from my "Modern Muslim South Asia" class in college. For a few years I only had a photocopied version of the whole book, and then I finally found a cheap, used version online. Yay!
Attia Hosain’s only novel, first published in 1961 is a classic novel of Muslim life, portraying the traditional feudal society into which Attia Hosain was born, in pre-partition days.
“Her greatest strength lies in her ability to draw a rich, full portrait of her society – ignoring none of its many faults and cruelties, and capable of including not only men and women of immense power and privilege but, to an equal extent, the poor who laboured as their servants. Perhaps the most attractive aspe
Yasmin Rahman
a very lyrical book on the claustrophobia of growing up in not just a Muslim but any other traditional home. Reflects the search for individualism in extended families that put "honour and duty" and "keeping up appearances" above even truth and freedom. Alternatively,it can be read as a book about the freedom struggle through a woman's eyes.
During his lifetime, the painter Raphael exceeded the fame of Michelangelo among their contemporaries. Now, of course, most people recognize the name 'Michelangelo' and Raphael is one of the sidelights of Renaissance art. Attia Hosain's novel was one of the most well-regarded of its time when it was published in 1961. Reading it today one struggles to understand why. As George Orwell put it, the only real critic of literature is Time. Hosain's novel is brimming with tiresome and claustrophia-ind ...more
Sairam Krishnan
The second book about pre-independence Muslim life in North India I've read in the space of two months, and both of them have been gems.

The first was Ahmed Ali's 'Twilight in Delhi', which is enjoying a late renaissance, and this book, which deserves one.

The books cannot be more dissimilar, Ahmed Ali's books is a lamentation of a story, sad, slow and meticulously told, while 'Sunlight on a Broken Column' is celebration of a world past, of a Lucknow long gone, dead and buried.

There are lines in A
This is a type of autobiographical story in the last days of British rule in India and revolves around the life of a young Muslim girl just entering into nobility. The author describes the lifestyles of the rich Nawabs of India at that time in a very realistic way. As old people were like in this novel there are a lot of incidents that makes us feel that girls at that time of period use to be a burden on their families.The elders of the community use to think that the presence of a female in mak ...more
Shefali Mehta
Perhaps I might have never bothered to read this book if my friend hadn't said to me that while reading he felt Laila was me. It was only the curiosity to know this character that I had been associated with that made me sit with this novel for 3 days.

At various points, it reminds of Amitav Ghosh's The Shadow Lines, though it never reaches the brilliance of the latter. Several themes are common to both: nationalism, partition, ideas of home and homeland, friction between generations. It is indee
Salonee Pareek
A memoir drawn from personal experiences - is my first impression of the book. It does justice to its name - that of casting some light, on a fragment, rather, a fragmented existence of a girl of a particular socio-economic class and community; and her world.
Read this years ago and recall the story as being a little depressing, but worth reading, especially for anyone interested in that period of history...
A simple, yet evocative story set in Lucknow of the 1930s. Those interested in Indian social history will find it delightful. Vikram Seth may well have drawn some inspiration for 'The Suitable Boy' from here.
Shruti Mittal
Amazing novel. A journey through series of emotions!!!
Mar 19, 2014 Ayushi added it
“I think Destiny’s purpose is merely to shock us at moments into a state of awareness; those moments are milestones in between which we have to find our own way.”

Sunlight on a Broken Column is a window to the India of the early twentieth century. The landscape of the pre-independent India marked with a red of revolution and a red of blood and struggle. Read as a chapter in history, the Freedom struggle...
Jan 13, 2014 Karmen rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Karmen by: Zack
Published in 1961, Attia Hosain's ideas were beyond progressive. This is a beautifully written book about transition: From British India to Independent (divided) India, from girl to woman; with a changing social order forming the backdrop. Hosain captures a bygone era of opulence with the nostalgia of one who has truly lived it. A highly recommended read for fans of historical Indian fiction.
I am in love with this book. And not just because it's a haunting love story. Attia Hossain beautifully captures a bygone age in all its subtleties. Her characters are alive and so is the pre-independent Lucknow that she depicts.

A must read for fans of Indian historical fiction.
Lucknow's aristrocracy, both Hindu and Muslim, come alive in this pre-independence novel. Loved every word. as the aristocracy comes to terms (or not) with independendence and the end of the feudal set up, we go with Laila on her personal journey
Fascinating to read a novel from a feminine and Muslim perspective into the Indian English partition narratives. It captures the life and times of the Muslim taluqdar family in transition from communal to nationalistic consciousness.
A beautifully written account of the intersection of the public and the private in Lucknow in the first half of the 20th century.
Educational for me, since I knew little about what life was like for a young Muslim woman in India in the 1930s.
Sam Schulman
Getting better and better - this "classic of Muslim life."
muslim tradition and lailas character
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“I think Destiny's purpose is merely to shock us at moments into a state of awareness; those moments are milestones in between which we have to find our own way.” 7 likes
“They sat behind a screen, and grunted and wheezed over sheets of brown paper that looked as if ink-dipped and intoxicated spiders had danced across them.” 3 likes
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