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An intense, compelling, and finely wrought epic of love and loss, race and ethnicity, homeland and belonging

Lila Langdon is 12 years old when she witnesses a family tragedy after her mother unveils her father’s surprise birthday present—a tragedy that ends her childhood in India and precipitates a new life in Sussex with her Great-aunt Wilhelmina. From the darkest days of the British Raj through to the aftermath of World War I, Belonging tells the interwoven story of three generations and their struggles to understand and free themselves from a troubled history steeped in colonial violence. It is a novel of secrets that unwind through Lila's story, through her grandmother’s letters home from India and the diaries kept by her father, Henry, as he puzzles over the enigma of his birth and his stormy marriage to the mysterious Rebecca.

336 pages, Paperback

First published September 17, 2015

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About the author

Umi Sinha

3 books36 followers
Umi Sinha was born in the military hospital in Mumbai (then Bombay) in 1952 to an English mother and Indian father, and grew up in India in the decade following Independence, when there was deeply held resentment against the British. She moved to Britain in 1968 during the backlash against the mass immigration of Asians who had been expelled from Uganda and Kenya. The experience of being an outsider looking for a place to belong, along with the impact of history – political and personal – on individual lives, is a major theme in her writing.

Umi has an MA in Creative Writing and taught at the University of Sussex for ten years. She teaches creative writing classes and workshops, runs a performance storytelling club and offers a mentoring and manuscript appraisal service for writers called Writing Clinic. She is also a trained mediator and trustee at her local community centre. She has had short stories published, including in Cosmopolitan magazine and in a Serpent Tail’s anthology. She is currently working on a new novel set in Italy and India between 1943 and 1948, exploring how individuals can overcome hatred and learn to forgive. Her first novel, to be published by Myriad in 2015, is Belonging.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 148 reviews
Profile Image for Al Brookes.
Author 2 books8 followers
November 2, 2015
I have never read a novel twice in a row before – finished it, then turned back to page one and started again. I did that with Belonging because it was so beautifully, intricately crafted, so layered and nuanced, that I knew I would love it as much, and see even more in it, the second time round.

This is not to say that I didn’t have to make an effort, for a few chapters, to get the relationships clear in my head – Cecily is Henry’s mother, Henry is Lila’s father. Each life from a different generation unfolds concurrently, glimpses of past, present and future creating a strangely timeless perspective. It’s an unusual structure. But any effort I made to get my head around it was repaid many times over in the poignancy of knowing all the characters deeply – grandmother, father and daughter – and some of the crucial events of their lives (and deaths) even before they did. And what I didn’t know tantalised me throughout – I found myself hungry for secrets to be disclosed, completely gripped.

I liked and cared about the characters – Cecily, naïve but surprisingly fair-minded, who many times tells the truth of things. Poor Henry, perplexed and guilty, oppressed by the mystery of his mother’s death. Lila, uprooted, bereft, a little girl who somehow contains both sides of history, who is fiercely intelligent, deliberately mute. Their lives weave and press against one other, each perspective revealing a little more of the other’s story.

I loved the richness of it, the interleaving of generations, memories and landscapes. I loved the ever-present contrast between the green of Sussex and the ochres of India – and the wonderful indictment of colonial rule through the eyes of the newcomer, Cecily. (‘Apparently Lord Dalhousie has been annexing native rulers’ kingdoms like a governess confiscating sweets from naughty boys, and there are fears the natives may rebel.’)

Belonging brings an important history alive, makes it vivid, real and unbearable (so much so that I had to remind myself on several occasions that Umi Sinha wasn’t actually there, making the journey from England to India via Cairo, for example, in 1855).

The idea of belonging – and not – travels from beginning to end, almost as tangible as the objects that travel with Lila: a Sussex stone with a hole in it and a statue of Shiva dancing in a ring of fire.

This is a wonderful novel, ambitious and entirely successful. And a significant story, beautifully told.

Profile Image for Nadia.
271 reviews178 followers
January 25, 2022
This was way better than I expected! I'm surprised there wasn't more fuss about this novel when it was published.

The story is mostly set in Colonial India told by three generations of Langdon family. Each generation suffers from a tragedy and has their own dark secrets that have significant impact on the life of the next generation. The story takes place in the dark times of British Raj 1850s through to the end of World War I and I really enjoyed reading about this part of the history.

This is the kind of book that slowly grows on you, and before you know it you can't put it down. 4.5 stars, highly recommended.
Profile Image for Michael O'leary.
1 review1 follower
August 12, 2020
This really is an important novel. I don't often review books, and in this case feel almost presumptuous doing so - because this isn't just another book.
I'm not going to summarise the plot - because, given the way the novel unfolds, this would inevitably provide "spoilers".
The novel addresses issues that are part of the construct of our current attitudes and assumptions. Racism, abuse, war, the construction of identity; it's all there, being examined by Umi Sinha in a way that is obviously deeply felt. Her depth of feeling for the characters and the historical circumstances of the plot - for the distorted relationship between India and England - is clear, and I think that personal identification is what gives Sinha's writing its power.
The novel has three narrators, from three different, but successive, generations. These narrations are interspersed. This sounds like it could lead to confusion; but it doesn't. That really is a tribute to the clarity of the writing. This clarity makes a book, which is difficult in terms of the issues it tackles, easy to read. A very serious book which is also a page turner - good combination.
And it's her first novel!
Profile Image for Areeb Ahmad (Bankrupt_Bookworm).
679 reviews204 followers
January 23, 2023
I can definitely see why this has been a sleeper hit! Very well-written historical fiction that looks at a very interesting period of time from a fascinating angle. I liked the characterizations, all three PoVs stood out in their own ways. The prose is really good too. The revelation at the end delivers on the promise of the prologue. The resolution was satisfactory.
Profile Image for Imi.
378 reviews112 followers
October 21, 2019
Two lines run through my head:
Beware! the root is wrapped about
Your mother’s heart, your father’s bones

They are from ‘The House of Eld’ and I understand them now. We carry our parents inside us, their blood in our veins, their voices in our heads.

[...] And, as I think that, I catch my reflection in the mirror and for a moment Mother is looking back at me, and her eyes are saying, ‘See, you are more like me than you know,’ and I feel the root tangling round my heart.
Spectacular! Historical fiction at its finest. Layered, rich in detail, clear in its time and place, this book uses 3 perspectives, from 3 generations of the same family, to slowly construct a narrative surrounding the dark days British Raj in India through to the end of the First World War. Unlike many novels utilising multiple perspectives, I thought each perspective was as important and poignant as the others, and I think that was thanks to the fantastic characterisation. There were so many dark reveals in the final chapters, which I don't want to say too much about. The ending was troubling and tragic, but fantastically done, and Sinha treats her characters and this troubling history with great compassion. I really was not prepared for how good this novel would be, and am very much struggling to get that across now. And apparently this was a debut novel! So I must wait to see what Sinha writes next...
Profile Image for Nina.
1,016 reviews9 followers
November 25, 2018
Belonging is a novel that is quietly wonderful. I didn’t have big expectations to begin with, but it’s brilliance slowly crept up on me until I realised that I couldn’t put it down. I don’t want to say too much as I think the blurb says enough - but just read it. Read it. It’s utterly brilliant.
Profile Image for Bigsna.
354 reviews8 followers
August 9, 2016
Probably one of the most undiscovered and underrated books from the past year. I would never have discovered it myself, but for a completely unplanned (impulsive) trip to the local bookstore where I made a very poor choice and was back to exchange it for something better. And this time too, with the bookshop owner waiting to close shop, I almost randomly picked up 'Belonging'. The cover was beautiful, but the author and book were completely unheard of, and a quick check on GR told me that with a 4+ rating it was a safe buy.

But I was not prepared for this book to be as fantastic as it was! Why hasn't it showed up on any lists!? And I am surprised that even the Guardian hasn't done a review on it, when it seems to review every new book that comes out! - - especially since this one has such a contextual British-Indian theme.

I seldom describe a book as "well crafted". Many are well written but this one has something beautiful and intricate about it, much like the fine embroidery that adorns its cover and is a pivotal part of the story. As a debut author, Umi Sinha has set the bar very high and admirably demonstrates, by example, her background as a creative writing mentor and manuscript appraiser.

There is something about epistolary novels and I loved this one even more because nearly two-thirds of it is written in the form of letters and diary entries - making the reader so much more involved and engaged with characters and their deepest emotions. Sinha treats her characters with a lot of compassion and sensitivity and one comes away understanding each one - why they became who they were, what shaped their lives.

This is a book worth reading again. Beautiful and elegant.
Profile Image for Tripfiction.
1,647 reviews197 followers
September 20, 2015
Novel set in India (“Remember Cawnpore!”)

India: “Everything is so extreme, the heat, the sun, the wild animals and the ever-present smell of death”

An insightful story set in the second half of the 19th century through and beyond the First World War. I knew in smatterings the course of Anglo-Indian relationships during the era of the Raj, but this book transports the reader through some very troubled times, without it being a didactic experience. Knowledge and information are disseminated as the story of three generations of one family begin to unfurl. It was in 1857 that the Crown took over, a sea-change began and gradually India almost began to morph into an outpost of suburban England. A vast country that was beginning to assert its own power, horns were beginning to lock. Set against this explosive background, the seething discontent, colour and human frailties, the book evokes a country and its people as they transition from one epoch to another.

At the beginning of the book there is a family tree, which is helpful just to keep in mind who is related to whom. The story develops through the voices of grandmother Cecily, son Henry and granddaughter Lila and it takes a little while to get into the rhythm, voices and different periods. The background of the broader history that is playing out reverberates into the lives of the individuals and their families in often unexpected ways. Death stalks their lives, and mental health issues take their toll.

Characters from a variety of ethnic origins and backgrounds are thrown together to in this combustible storyline, interspersed with perceptive research that brings the various periods to vibrant life. How the interiors of the buildings might have felt, how it took three months to travel 900 miles and how violence at The Siege at Cawnpore rippled down through the generations with devastating consequences.

India is contrasted with very different life in Sussex where the strands from that faraway land come to settle. It is here that Lila makes her home with Aunt Mina and wades through the trauma of World War 1, but India – whether memories or the ever present Indian soldiers who fought for the British – is ever present.

This review first appeared on our blog and we also feature a QA with the author: http://www.tripfiction.com/novel-set-...
Profile Image for Sneha Pathak (reader_girl_reader).
341 reviews61 followers
July 31, 2021
I am hovering at around 3.75 stars for this one. While i liked it, it didn't blow me away. The best thing about the book was its clever narrative technique and how Sinha was able to create main characters that don't seem to be bogged down by the colonial gaze.
Profile Image for Shweta.
308 reviews
July 18, 2021
Back in February, I was at a book fair. Just as we were leaving, a bronze pile of books caught my attention. Belonging by Umi Sinha, it said. I read the blurb - it wasn't terribly original or exciting, yet I picked it anyway. These days, my books are well researched and TBR planned, so, I am still wondering what made me pick a book by an author I'd never heard of. Perhaps, it was fate intervening. Perhaps, it wasn;t me who chose the book, but the book that chose me. Little did I know then that this book was to become one of my favourite reads of 2021.

Belonging is a beautiful mutli-generational saga of two families - Partridges and Langdons - connected by marriage, set against the backdrop of British Raj, who seemed to have been kissed by misfortune. The story is told from three perspectives - Cecily Partridge (in 1800s), her son Henry Langdon (late 1800s), and her granddaughter, Lila (early 1900s). Each story is touched by tragedy and rips your heart skein by skein.

To tell you anymore about the story would be spoiling it. So instead, I'll talk about the writing and what made me fall in love with a book that emotionally destroyed me. First, the writing is haunting, the prose simple yet affecting ( quite reminded me of Vikram Seth, though his work is nowhere as dark ); Sinha manages to create a portrait of times gone by so realistically, that I could smell the fresh air, feel the winter sun on my face. The nuances of language and culture are on point - Brits in India during 1800s and 1900s spoke and behaved a certain way. But what hit me the most was how Sinha managed to maintain the delicate balance of objectivity. Her story neither romanticizes nor villainizes British Raj. It shows how costly war is and that each side pays a heavy price. It tells you how greed, power, and the desire for vengeance can push a man to commit inhumane and monstrous acts.

Sinha uses multiple literary devices to tell her story - letters, diary entries, and third person narrative. To me, as a reader, this was an immersive experience and in no way detracted from reading. In fact, I loved it.

Belonging was published in 2015 and I am so surprised that I never even heard of it. It's a book that deserves to be read and lauded. I am certainly going to recommend it to everyone until they've ALL read it.

In short, Belonging is one of the finest historical fictions that I've read and whether you're a fan of this genre or not, I highly recommend it.

P.S: Naming a certain awful character Rebecca was a stroke of genius. I was so amused when I made the connection ( I don't know if it was intentional, but it's awesome )

Profile Image for Preethi Joseph.
269 reviews22 followers
April 7, 2021
I know I love a book when I take It to the chest often, close my almost welling eyes to drift into thoughts , taking my own sweet time to return back to reality ! So its safe to say I loved this book , and will love it to eternity !

When you turn the last page of a book and feel like going right back to page 1 and starting it all over again because you care so much about the characters and do not want to part, thats when you know you’ve found a gem ! This book is it, the gem..

I dont really know if the reason I love this book is because it is two of my favourites genres sandwiched into one i.e Historical fiction + Multi-generation family saga , or if it was just how beautiful the book by itself is crafted 🤷🏼‍♀️ Either ways I cannot thank enuf for recommending this book for the prompt 4 #femmemarchatwomaniyat by Historical fiction by Indian female author . I’d blindly read her recommendations henceforth 🙈

I am so surprised nobody is talking about this book .. Belonging by Umi Sinha is so intense , gripping and powerful to be this underrated !! In fact I am ashamed of having not found this book earlier given the self proclaimed historical fiction fan I am.. Sometimes I read a book and wish It would be made into a movie only sometimes I vividly can see a whole scene form in front of my eyes already and Belonging was one such beautiful journey and I would not stop recommending this book for years to come ! It definitely deserves way more attention and love than it has been getting and If at-least one person is convinced by my review to read this book my job here is done !!

I am not going to giveaway much about this book because I am hoping you would read it (so no spoilers )
The book is set during WW1 with a lot of studf around sepoy mutiny partly in colonial India and partly in Sussex
Its a tale of three generations . So we follow a 12 year old Lila (present) her father Henry (through his Journal) and her Grandmother Cecily (through her letters to her Twin Mina) . In the beginning the jumping timelines ,POV’s and location could be a bit confusing but as far as understanding the relations is concerned there is a family tree in the start of the book which helps greatly. Tats all folks get your copy already !

Can I give this one a 10/5 please 🙈
Profile Image for Laeba Haider | Readgret.
72 reviews39 followers
May 13, 2021
Rating ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐/5
"𝑯𝒆 𝒑𝒖𝒏𝒊𝒔𝒉𝒆𝒔 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒄𝒉𝒊𝒍𝒅𝒓𝒆𝒏 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒊𝒓 𝒄𝒉𝒊𝒍𝒅𝒓𝒆𝒏 𝒇𝒐𝒓 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒔𝒊𝒏𝒈𝒔 𝒐𝒇 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒑𝒂𝒓𝒆𝒏𝒕𝒔 𝒕𝒐 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒕𝒉𝒊𝒓𝒅 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒇𝒐𝒖𝒓𝒕𝒉 𝒈𝒆𝒏𝒆𝒓𝒂𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏." The story takes you through the lives of three different characters of three different generations - Cecily, her son Henry, and his daughter Lila. 🍂

It is written parts in the form of letters Cecily wrote to her sister in Sussex, the diary Henry keeps as instructed by his tutor and the life accounts of Lila as she goes through it. 🍃

Other than Cecily and Henry's stories and how they shape Lila's life, the story is about Lila, at the age of 12, witnesses a family tragedy on the occasions of her father's fiftieth birthday party that her mother organizes. This tragedy ends her childhood in India as she is sent to Sussex to live with her great-aunt Mina. 🍂
While Lila remembers her father killing himself, she never got around to know or understand why he did it.
As Aunt Mina dies, she leaves Lila the truth about her family and her blood. 🍃
This book is a marvelous piece of writing. And by marvelous, I mean MARVELOUS. The story, the characters, their pains and their tragedies are described in a way that they leave an image carved onto your heart. While the story deals with Cecily, Henry and Lila and their lives, it also sheds light on the unimaginable amount of pain and loss the first world war left behind and the revolt of 1857, or the first freedom struggle, as we like to remember it. The events of 1857 are remembered as the stepping stone for a united India as we fought for our freedom, but this story describes the events of that year from the perspective of the Britishers. The loss, The loss, humiliation and torture that they were subjected to, especially the ones like Cecily and Arthur who had nothing but love for natives. And then the consequences that the natives faced because of it, which I feel I will never be able to put in words.🍃 All in all, a beautiful piece of literature that I feel one must read at least once in their life! ❤️
For the full review (yes, even longer :p), please visit the link: https://wp.me/paw3f5-1a
16 reviews5 followers
August 12, 2020
At times, this novel felt a bit Kipling-esque, but I think the epistolary format was used really well to tie the Langdon family history together. It was interesting that their narratives were embedded against a backdrop of events in Indian history during British rule, which had a clear impact on the characters’ own actions. Especially, it was significant that Jagjit’s own disenfranchisement with Britain was developed after he served in the War, only to be discriminated as an Indian soldier, and to later discover Britain’s role in the Amritsar Massacre. The non-linear narrative also kept the book interesting until the very end, as it slowly unearthed the complexity of Lila’s own identity. And the bar is low, but I appreciated that the book negated any Orientalist perceptions of Indian culture.
Profile Image for Rishi Prakash.
352 reviews24 followers
February 7, 2017
The author has very well placed the story from the darkest days of the British Raj through to the aftermath of the First World War by showing us the world from the eyes of three different characters of three different generation which is unique and really interesting. She has managed to put the story of three generations and their struggles to understand and free themselves from a troubled history steeped in colonial violence and issues which India had under British Raj.

Absolutely wonderful and heart wrenching at times which keeps one glued right till the end... it is serene and disturbing and tugs at our heartstrings in a very special way.. must read for sure.

I look forward to the author's next book :-)
Profile Image for Mª João Monteiro.
756 reviews45 followers
March 12, 2022
Há quanto tempo não lia um livro sem parar? São 4,5*
A história de Lila e das gerações suas antecessoras mistura-se com a história da Índia britânica e as suas regras tão especiais. No entanto, a seguir vem a I Guerra e tudo se torna ainda mais complicado. Contado por vários narradores através de cartas e diários, este livro leva-nos para outros locais e outros tempos. A tradução do título original, Belonging, nada tem a ver, o original tem a ver com a história das personagens que tentam descobrir onde pertencem. Algumas têm pouca consistência (como a mãe de Lila e a tia Mina), mas a protagonista é cativante. Gostaria de mais pormenores sobre todos.
Profile Image for Sofia.
833 reviews100 followers
February 5, 2017
Contar histórias é uma arte e Umi Sinha conseguiu fazê-lo muito bem.
Senti-me cativada desde as primeiras páginas, completamente envolvida pela narrativa e pelas personalidade tão diferentes (e tão parecidas) das personagens principais (Cecily, Henry e Lila).
Por fim, tenho de dizer que gosto mais do título original - Belonging - e da capa original.
Profile Image for Abbie Sage.
27 reviews2 followers
May 6, 2019
everyone should read this book that’s it that’s the post
Profile Image for kairavi.
32 reviews2 followers
May 14, 2023
Phenomenal. I love books which are not just a linear story but a complex set of experiences and emotions. It upsets me that this book is not talked about. I need more books from Umi Sinha.

Belonging is majorly about grief, coping and generational trauma. A historical fiction set during the British Raj and told by three generations experiencing struggles of different times. The Indian version of Khaled Hosseini.

It is terrifically commendable to write journal entries, letters and narrations from three different people's points of view with three distinct writing styles, while setting your own aside. It was done really well. I love this book.

content warnings: suicide (opening scene only), violence, massacres, paranoia.
Profile Image for Claire (Silver Linings and Pages).
243 reviews21 followers
January 13, 2021
Belonging is an ambitious and beautifully written story that weaves together strands of three generations in India and Britain, from the days of the British Raj to after World War One. trauma, secrets and betrayal are uncovered as the characters wrestle with their past to make sense of their heritage and identities. It’s an epic story, brimming with emotion, as it delves into (my favourite!) themes of self-discovery, memory, loss, unfulfilled love and connection. Belonging also sensitively exposes dark chapters of British colonisation in India; from flippant attitudes on natives’ intelligence and emotional capacity, to battles and massacres where Indian soldiers were sacrificed for the British empire. What particularly impressed me was the nuanced writing, believable characters and fact that the brilliant storytelling is so unpredictable.

An engrossing and unforgettable novel! Thank you Myriad Editions for the review copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

“Hindus believe that when you cross the ocean - which they call the kala pani or black water - you lose your caste, and your caste defines your place in the world: where you belong, and ultimately, who you are. You become an outcast. My own experience, even though I am not a Hindu, tells me that this is true.”
Profile Image for suz.
89 reviews1 follower
June 16, 2022
wow……wow, wow, wow. uwielbiam wszystko w tej książce, bohaterowie, fabuła, tempo akcji, uwielbiam. skończyłam czytać chwilę temu i myśle o tym cały czas, wow.
Profile Image for Oumeima.
142 reviews17 followers
August 15, 2022
What a beautiful, compelling, and intense read this book has been!!
It took me a while to finish this book but it was worth it. I loved the writing here to bits, the book doesn't feel like a debut novel at all. Lately, I've been enjoying books with multiple perspectives where the story spins through generations. This was perfect for me as the story kept on unfolding slowly from three different points of view.
To know the book was written about a very crucial epoch in the history of India and that of the British-Indian relations and from real life stories makes it such an eye opener to the caste system and other social and political issues from that time, some of which remain as timely as ever. I always enjoy stories that call for research and investigation and always end up falling in love with authors who take the pain to actually study the history and experiences of those who went through such horrific events. Umi Sinha did an amazing job as far as her portrayal of the characters is in question. I sympathized with all the characters even those I didn't really get, somehow every single one had his or her own reasons and life was tough for all of them. A reminder that life is never an easy journey!!
The way Sinha wrapped the story up into a full circle was honsstly the cherry on top. I have to say that I couldn't even imagine that ending and how it makes total sense with the opening few pages of the book 🙈
Profile Image for Barbara.
986 reviews129 followers
August 13, 2016
Umi Sinha's book 'Belonging' is initially rather confusing and I will admit that when I was about 15% of the way through (good old Kindle progress monitoring), I realised I was getting totally confused and went back to the first 'page' and started over. The book gives three separate narratives which gradually weave together as the book progresses.

For anybody with any knowledge of the history of the British in India, the dates associated with the epistolary tale of young, innocent and enthusiastic Cecily heading out to India to marry a much older man, were clearly going to take us headlong into the Indian Mutiny but we were never clear quite how it would evolve nor how it would interact with the stories of Henry and Lila. Equally, the dates associated with Lila's story make it inevitable that she's heading straight for the First World War. Quite where Henry fits between them only becomes apparent much later in the book.

There comes a point when the reader works out how the three must be related but the 'reveal' is a slow burner and it's fascinating. Set in both India and Britain, the characters struggle throughout with their lack of a sense of 'home' and of 'belonging'. And the end, when you finally get there, is one that leaves as many questions as answers.

I hadn't heard of this author before, I still am unsuire if Sinha is a man or a woman, and at times that did seem to matter - mostly when I was getting Henry and Lila's stories muddled due to the lack of a distinct difference in the two voices. But the book is one I recommend highly for setting some of history's big events into a very human context, addressing the horrors of both the mutiny and WW1 and equally importantly for taking the small details of how people survived every day life a long way from home - wherever 'home' might be.
Profile Image for John.
128 reviews
February 9, 2022
Across three separate timelines we meet successive generations of a family impacted by the problems and prejudices of the British in India from the mid-19th to early-20th Centuries. The stories in each timeline are big enough that they warrant their own books (the Siege of Cawnpore, child abuse, the First World War), and so whilst there are important themes connecting them, I didn't get quite enough from each thread. In parts it felt quite rushed, or that there wasn't the space to properly explore the emotions involved. It's a shame, because I wanted to read more about each of the character's sense of belonging to England and India, to their families and to themselves.
29 reviews
August 18, 2015
This is my favourite book of 2015. I was lucky enough to get an advance copy and have just finished reading it. I don't want to say too much about the plot, as I'd hate to deprive other readers of the pleasure of discovery.

The story unfolds through three different strands and each of the narrative voices is engaging and distinctive. The characters were well-rounded and three-dimensional and the plotting rich, bold and complex. The final chapters are almost unbearable to read, as the final tragedy is revealed.

A fantastic debut.
Profile Image for Ayantika  Pal.
28 reviews7 followers
December 30, 2021
May I begin by saying that Belonging deserves all the hype bookstagram has been showering upon it, but keeping my personal biases for such heart-rending stories aside, I do not recommend reading this book if you are in a troubled state of mind. for it might transport you to a tunnel of undefined melancholy with no light of hope at the end of it.

I read books because it introduces us to different perspectives of the same history we've been fed through all our life. The British reigned India for nearly 200 years. Countless of them left behind their own country and spent entire lives, generations after generations in their colonies to serve the crown. and some of them learned to call them home. they remained torn between divided roots and conflicted identities, unsure where they "Belong".

we come across a family saga encompassing three generations set during the British Raj in India. through the POVs of Lila, his father Henry, and Henry's mother Cecily we shift between timelines and piece together a family's intimate suffering and unearth secrets. Lila can't wrap her head around the fact that her father committed suicide on his own birthday and she is being sent away from India to her aunt Mina in an alien land, where an even more painful life was awaiting her. Lila's story gets interspersed by Cecily's letters to her sister, and Henry's diary entries that unfolds how a British family throughout generations faced tragedy after tragedy in a tumultuous era, leading up to some dark revelations. Rising anti-British activities, the Sepoy Mutiny, Cawnpur Massacre, Indian soldiers' involvement in WW1 - the story is backed by the devastating repercussions of historical events and intertwined with impeccably crafted characters who are nothing but victims of those events, some bygone unintentional lies, and blunders.

how do I depict the numbness I felt after finishing this book? yes, it too ended on a hopeful note but that wasn't enough to heal the wounds inflicted on me throughout the read. my heart cried for Henry, a motherless child, a good son, who grew up to be a compassionate British officer, a wonderful father, yet unrewarded by love. and Lila, who bore the burden of generations of trauma, faced nothing but loss after loss, yet so resilient.

As I said the prose from page one had a melancholic tone lingering constantly, but so beautiful and poignant at the same time. I witnessed two sides of the coin. It approached the British and Indian relationships, covering aspects like slavery, ethnicity, racism, British officers keeping Indian mistresses, women behind the curtains, etc. with such ease and intensity it blew my mind. I was emotionally absorbed and couldn't take my eyes off it! Belonging in its enormity is a magnificent tale of a torn-apart family stuck between the cross-currents of history, that I will remember for a long time.
Profile Image for Ciea✨.
93 reviews13 followers
May 19, 2021

Billions of lives in the world, some of them residing in a country called India. A history that is dripping with grief and bloodshed. We, the people of India who endured and once lived, are now either buried in its soil or at the bed of a river, in the form of ashes. We, the people of India, who are living in the present and seem to have forgotten of the trauma we unknowingly carry on our backs.

India was colonised by the British. Seems like a chapter in the NCERT history books that makes the students groan. The pain, though, stings far more than those pages could ever explain. India is a country to whose history everybody belonged. Irrespective of their nationality, many have called this land their home and either given their lives or taken some for it. The oppressed were hurting. They still hurt because scars inflicted over a course of more than two centuries don’t vanish in just seventy or so years. And then the oppressors. The ones who had come to trade but stayed, generations thriving and surviving in a country that they couldn’t call their own, but still saw a “home” in it because of the monotony of a vision they had long detached from. It was the leaders at their filthy work, people suffering and dying and falling like pawns of a fate-changing game of chess. Though the only thing missing was a black and a white side, because that chasm of nothingness turned into a grey space, humanity and motives dangling somewhere in between.

Humans. Complex, delusional, delicate, impactful. Fragile, maybe. Damaged, one might say. This story showed me so many traumatising ways of humans, irrespective of which side they were on because after a time, it doesn’t even matter. I was at a loss for words throughout the book. It had devoured me completely. While I took a week reading the first half of the book due to commitments, I took a couple of hours to finish the last half because it was one of the darkest accounts of war and tragedy I had ever read, but so gripping that I completely surrendered myself to it. World wars, turning the people against each other, making this earth a bloody land. While the people on the top tier just had to command, it was the people lost everything. Their families, possessions, loved ones and themselves. And the most important : peace.

Like a folk tale, there existed a land with enemies. The people of which fought till the end, for freedom. The enemy defended itself, some of them wavering and losing sight of where they belonged : right and wrong soon making a huge unfathomable mess. Now, that land is divided in many parts. The only thing in common being a history. A history of Bharat and its people that they all shared : some took it as a nightmare they couldn’t wake up from, and some as a dream slipped from their clutches.

With a sense of belonging to my roots, I feel closer to my land now.
Profile Image for Célia Gil.
496 reviews19 followers
August 19, 2021
Que livro maravilhoso, empolgante, comovente, duro e dolorosamente belo!
Logo no início do livro, é-nos apresentada uma árvore genealógica das personagens que, em algum momento da história, têm um papel preponderante. Dei comigo a consultá-la durante a leitura da obra, uma vez que nos é apresentada a história de várias gerações para que, mais facilmente, possamos compreender a de Lila.
Este livro parte de dados históricos reais, incidentes, partes de diálogos, descrições, espaços e momentos que existiram, de facto, onde se movem personagens que poderiam muito bem ter existido, mas que, como a própria autora nos revela, são pura ficção. Porém, conferem maior verosimilhança à história narrada. De entre as fontes utilizadas pela autora, temos algumas que se referem ao Amotinamento Indiano, aos acontecimentos em Cawnpore, ao movimento sufragista feminino, à I Guerra Mundial relativamente ao Exército Indiano, ao Hospital Indiano em Brighton, entre outros.
A narração destes episódios é bastante crua e dura. Por mais que tenhamos lido sobre a temática, nunca imaginamos a guerra como ela realmente foi e este relato de acontecimentos extremamente violentos neste livro ainda tem o poder de nos arrepiar e surpreender.
A história desta família surge de forma alternada, o que nos permite compreender o presente, com recurso aos acontecimentos passados narrados.
Como é percetível na leitura da sinopse, Lila é confrontada com o suicídio do pai, num dia de festa, depois de ter visto a toalha que a mulher bordara para lhe oferecer. Mas o que teria esta toalha que causou horror entre todos os presentes, que se esgueiraram da festa o mais rápido que puderam? É o que, mais tarde, será revelado a Lila e, aí, somos nós que ficamos horrorizados! Como sempre, não posso revelar.
Para descobrir este e muitos outros segredos que esta família oculta ao longo dos anos, terá de ler o livro e garanto que não se arrependerá!
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