Nisha is a twelve-year-old girl who lives with her twin brother, her father, and her grandmother in India in 1947. Her Muslim mother died during childbirth, and Nisha writes letters to her in her diary every night. Since being freed from the British, India has been divided and there is great tension between the Hindus and the Muslims. When the family must leave their home for their own safety, they embark on a long and dangerous journey towards freedom and a new life.
The story begins in July of 1947; Nisha and her twin brother, Amil, have turned 12 years old and life is about to change all around them. Their Muslim mother died during childbirth, and the twins are being raised by their Hindu father and grandmother and the family’s cook, Kazi, who is Muslim. On August 15, India gained independence from Britain, and the divide between the Hindus and the Muslims grew.
For their safety, the kids are homeschooled by their grandmother. Violence grows all around them, and their home is broken into and Kazi is beaten. Papa decides it is time to leave; it is no longer safe for the family. Nisha is devastated that dear Kazi must not join them in their journey, but as a Muslim, it is not safe for him to travel with them. The family’s destination is Jodhpur, with a stop along the way to rest at their uncle’s home. They must set out on foot, as the violence on the trains has worsened.
The journey on foot is long and difficult, and they are only able to carry minimal supplies. When they run out of water, Amil becomes very ill and almost dies. The family also deals with interactions with other travelers, including a Muslim man who threatens Nisha with a knife to her throat.
When they arrive at their uncle Rashid’s home, the children learn about their mother through her brother’s stories. Nisha sees a Muslim girl in the neighborhood and becomes friendly with her. When Papa discovers this friendship, he fears for his family’s safety and they depart at once. Aboard a train to Jodhpur, the family encounters overcrowded conditions and witnesses brutal fighting, which traumatizes Nisha.
When the family finally arrives in Jodhpur, they live in a cramped and dirty apartment, which is nothing like their old home. Nisha feels the anger of her father because of her friendship with the Muslim girl and she feels extreme guilt. One day, upon arriving home from school, Nisha and Amil see a thin, dirty, and weak man in the alley to their apartment. It is Kazi! He has risked his life and has endured a long and dangerous journey to be with his “family”.
As the family adjusts to their new life in Jodhpur, Nisha makes a friend and loves being able to cook with Kazi again. Nisha remembers their old home on the compound and misses the way things were, but she realizes that she is brave, and is proud of the journey that her family has survived. After all, as long as everyone is together, that is all that matters. The Night Diary is a beautifully written story about freedom and survival, and is an excellent addition to any classroom reading curriculum.