Originally published in 1959 in India, this epic is widely considered the most important novel of 20th century Urdu fiction, narrating the fates of four recurring characters over two and a half millennia. These characters become crisscrossed and strangely inseparable over different eras, forming and reforming their relationships in romance and war, in possession and dispossession.
... the magnum opus of possibly the most acclaimed Urdu novelist of all time ... tells a completist and syncretistic version of 2,500 years of history in modern-day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh ... But the novel, barreling through the ages, leads up to 1947 with great purpose, the deep past used to understand the suddenness and chaos of Partition ... captures the regret—of pulling apart a people formed and contaminated collectively by numerous, sometimes opposing cultures—and the brutal abruptness of Partition that is deeply familiar to those from the subcontinent, even generations later ... To read River of Fire is to deliberately invoke the regret and sadness we sensed from our grandparents: for the singular, abandoned hope that Partition could somehow be undone ... the historical benefit that River of Fire confers is particularly important today, in its reintroduction of an audacious, complex syncretism as a method to find a real identity that can sensibly counter the fictitious ones each country confers on its citizens and in its approach to history—one that Hyder doesn’t shy away from being explicit about ... Hyder’s sheer prescience, writing in 1959, is hard to understate.
A sweeping saga that covers over two thousand years, River of Fire weaves the lives and fates of several recurring characters into a glorious tapestry of India’s history ... Although it may sound chaotic, somehow the text winds seamlessly from the wanderings of a Buddhist monk (circa 300 BC) through the empire of the Great Moguls and then that of the English Raj, down to Partition and its aftermath. Brilliant and thought-provoking, my only caveat on River of Fire is that readers not familiar with India’s history may find some of the leaps of time hard to follow. But don’t let that stop you; this book is fascinating!
Qurratulain Hyder...has a magisterial ambition and technical resourcefulness rarely seen before in Urdu fiction ... Hyder employs diverse genres—letters, chronicles, parables, journals—to present her melancholy vision of the corrosions of time. In confidently writing about India’s Buddhist and Hindu past, Hyder, a Muslim by birth, also provides an example of the secular literary culture of the subcontinent that has largely remained untainted by sectarian tensions.