Publication Date: 3 February 2022
Malaya, 1942. Nisha’s home is destroyed by war and she and her mother, Amma, flee to her father’s ancestral house in England, perched on a cliff top on the cold Northern coast.
When Amma falls gravely ill, Nisha is left to face her formidable grandmother alone. Grandmother’s rules are countless, and her Anglo-Indian granddaughter is even forbidden from climbing the old weeping tree.
But when a ghost child beckons Nisha to sit under its boughs, and promises her Amma’s life in return for three truths, its pull proves irresistible …
Utterly mesmerising and heartbreakingly beautiful, Nisha’s War is a triumph of courage and hope that transports the reader back in time to both Malaya and the Northumberland coast into the heart of a family awash with secrets.
Dan Smith has intertwined a ghostly mystery with a war story that highlights the trauma, guilt and grief that comes with fleeing a war zone and ending up in a foreign land where even your ancestral family home feels deeply unwelcoming.
From the moment we meet Mrs Barrow, we know Nisha isn’t in the loving home she needs to recover from the horrors she has survived. Through her truth journal, we are transported back to Malaya and the fall of Singapore at the hands of the Japanese, and it is both deeply moving and uncomfortable reading, that opens our eyes to an aspect of World War II that many primary children will know little about.
As Nisha gets to know her new home and local community, she is driven by her ghosts drive to uncover the secret that may hold the key to belonging at Barrow Island. The characters who surround her, from kindly Mrs Foster, seemingly carefree land girl, Joy, and Joe who relishes the opportunity to explore the forbidden island all bring out different aspects of Nisha’s character, but none more so than her intimidating Grandmother.
But more than anything, this is a book about new beginnings, self-forgiveness and hope. Because without those, what is the point of fleeing to start afresh somewhere safe? As young readers delve deeper into Nisha’s past and present, and understand her deep rooted fears and survivor’s guilt, they may well grow empathy towards today’s refugees fleeing warzones looking for somewhere new to call home.
An absolutely stunning read that will stay with you long after you have finished reading.
The Guest Post
Race and inclusivity in NISHA’S WAR by Dan Smith
Nisha’s War is a special story to me. I feel deeply connected to my main character, Nisha, and to the settings that mirror her state of mind. When I was writing it, the words flowed easily, and I gave no thought to the themes. I was just telling Nisha’s story. But since writing it, a number of themes have boiled to the surface, and one of those is race and inclusivity.
You see, Nisha’s father is English and her mother is Indian. Added to that mix is the fact that she has been born and brought up in Malaya. So when Nisha arrives in cold, grey England at the beginning of the story, she is an outsider. She doesn’t look like the other people in the village, and her experiences are not the same. She is different.
But, looking deeper, Nisha isn’t so different at all. She has the same fears, and the same thoughts as anyone else would have. She loves in the same way. She feels sadness in the same way. She feels joy in the same way. She is just a lonely girl, trying to deal with the trauma of fleeing from war.
As I said, I feel deeply connected to Nisha. In part, that’s because I’ve given her a pretty hard time, and I feel bad about that. I’ve torn her from her home and sent her to an unwelcoming home on a barren island. I’ve given her a cold grandmother, a creepy house to live in, and a strange mystery to solve. But the main reason I feel so connected to Nisha is because I have given her so much of myself. I grew up in Sumatra, just a short hop from Malaya, and I have given Nisha parts of my own childhood. She lives on the plantation I lived on, in the same house, surrounded by the same trees and the same people. She remembers the sights and sounds and smells exactly as I remember them. When she comes to England, it is to live on the north-east coat; where I live. She walks on the same beaches and breathes the same cold air.
And I have given Nisha something else; Nisha’s mixed heritage is a reflection of my own family. My own children. This turned out to be an important decision. I have written non-white characters before – the main characters of both Boy X and Below Zero have mixed heritage – but race is a more significant aspect of this story, and has raised issues I wasn’t expecting to deal with. There seemed to be a slight nervousness around it, and I began to wonder if I would be challenged for writing Nisha’s story. As a white male adult, am I able to realistically and sensitively tell a story about a child with dual heritage? Is it my story to tell? Am I ‘allowed’?
My answer to that is yes, it is my story to tell. I have given Nisha so much of myself. She is a reflection of me, my family, and my children.
When I wrote Nisha’s War, I didn’t think about it being ‘inclusive’. It was just a story that felt right. But it is inclusive, and I’m glad it is. I want to embrace that aspect of it because it’s important for children to be able to see themselves in a story. Whoever they are. I hope that Nisha’s War does that.
NISHA’S WAR by Dan Smith out now in paperback (£7.99, Chicken House) Find out more at dansmithbooks.com and on twitter @DanSmithAuthor
Huge thanks to Chicken House for sending me a copy and inviting me to take part in the Blog Tour, and special thanks to Dan for such an insightful and heartfelt guest post too! Do make sure you check out all of the other stops.