A Beautiful Lie by Irfan Master
Author Bio: English author of Pakistani and Indian heritage.
Are you the type who leafs past the prologue, eager to get on with the story? Don’t do it! Read the first line, only the first line and you will feel compelled to continue. You don’t even need to worry about coming up with a book talk if you want to convince readers to grab this one. Just read the prologue aloud. It is nearly impossible to resist.
Bilal’s father is dying and he must shoulder this burden alone. His mother is already gone and his older brother is never home, preferring to spend his time mixed up with troublemakers. As India nears Partition, Bilal is certain of one thing only, that it would break his father’s heart to learn that his beloved India was going to be divided. Dedicated to protecting his father, Bilal begins his beautiful lie, allowing his father to pass without ever knowing of the rocky future.
A Beautiful Lie does a remarkable job of evoking the feeling of tension and unrest that must have filled those days. In some strange way it reminds me of Betsy and the Great World which details the mood in Europe immediately proceeding the first World War. So many books are set during actual conflicts, or follow characters who are actively engaged in the fighting. It’s another thing entirely to follow those who were affected but were not directly part of the action and to capture their fears, concerns and dreams and A Beautiful Lie does it masterfully.
The moral side of Bilal’s dilemma is not ignored. Throughout the book, his own feelings shift and change. Others join him in the lie, some after persuasion and some devotedly, some who must be lied to in turn. It’s very well done and would make for an excellent discussion topic.
Great for: I highly recommend using this is in a classroom setting with students who are old enough. There is so much here to talk about and think about! Plus, it serves as an introduction to a very interesting historical period that may be unfamiliar to them.
Age Recommendation: I would recommend this for Grades 5+. I think some of my gifted third and fourth graders would have enjoyed it, but it does have some tough vocabulary (handled with a glossary) and the topic is not necessarily an easy one especially if readers lack background knowledge.
Sex, Nudity, Dating – None.
Profanity – “damned”, “damn”, “son of a swine”, “son of a dog”, “son of a cockroach”, “idiot”, “hell”,
Death, Violence and Gore – Bilal’s mother passed away five years ago. His father is dying of cancer. There is violence and unrest in India. Mobs are burning homes, killing women and children. There are cockfights in the cemetery. Men discuss arson, noting that a burnt, crisp corpse makes a statement. A boy is told to “wallop” someone if he gets caught. Someone threatens to bite someone else. Two mobs form and fight, enveloped in dust, wielding sticks. One man is hit in the end, blood streams from his head, he convulses and dies. Although Bilal thinks about all the ways a person could be harmed or killed, he does not elaborate on this thinking. A man is punched and slapped. A man is hit in the face with a stick. A boy is thrown to the ground and pinned to the floor. Blood streams down a man’s face. A man is badly beaten. Boys throw stones at another boy. Bilal has read about how gladiators were forced to fight to the death. There is another cockfight; this one is described. There is a mob that becomes violent. Men fight with rocks and stones; they beat each other with tree branches. Other men use machetes and other knives to cut each other. Many are injured or killed. The scene is described as “vision of hell”. A man tries to hold together what is left of his face, which is burned and blistered. At the mob scene a barrel of oil is tipped over and lit. A boy has killed someone in self-defense during the violence. Bilal remembers seeing encyclopedia pictures of animal carcasses with torn flesh and jutting bones. Someone threatens to burn another person alive. He gets as far as dousing the person with oil. People are burned in their homes. A boy watches his father die and holds his body closely.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – People smoke cigarettes. People smoke lime and betel rolled in eucalyptus leaves. A teen smokes. Bilal’s brother smokes. A Reverend gets drunk.
Frightening or Intense Things – A cobra is loose in a classroom. There is a lot of tension built into situations in this book. Trouble is brewing and often Bilal (and the reader) must wait to see what happens. Two people are held against their will when the peace is broken. There are some descriptions of how Bapuji looks as he gets sicker and sicker.