It is 1939, and 12-year-old Neela Sen and her family are preparing for the wedding of Neela’s older sister. Neela knows her parents will soon be arranging a betrothal for her, too. She is far more interested in thinking about other things, including India’s growing movement for independence from Great Britain. When her father is jailed following a march against British rule, Neela takes matters into her own hands and goes to Calcutta to find him.
Chitra Divakaruni’s first children’s book is part of the Girls of Many Lands series, featuring books and dolls based on young girls from various historical periods and cultural traditions.
This novel was published as Victory Song in 2007 in India by Penguin Books.
Praise for Neela: Victory Song:
“In 1939 India, 12-year-old Neela’s interests begin as local: her sister’s wedding, learning new music from a traveling musician. When a group of freedom fighters needing money interrupts the wedding and robs the guests, everything changes. Her father goes to join a protest march in Calcutta and soon Neela, disguised as a boy, follows. Chitra Divakaruni juggles two difficult goals: presenting the story of Indian independence and presenting it as a 12-year-old might have seen it. Some parts of the plot are independence-related; others relate more to questions 12-year-olds might have, about arranged marriages or the education of girls, for instance. The short period covered means Neela’s experiences are intense, but readers don’t learn more of the path to nationhood. Still, this entry in the “Girls of Many Lands” series is a good opening note.” (Chicago Tribune)
Neela sat among the women guests in the clearing by the side of the house, where the wedding was taking place. She listened to the drawn-out notes the wedding musician played. The notes were soft and sorrowful, yet full of joy at the same time. They celebrated the fact that her sister was starting a new life, but they mourned that Usha’s girlhood was ending now that she was a bride. How many new responsibilities she would have as a wife!
Neela wondered what her sister was thinking. Usha looked beautiful in her red silk sari and all her gold wedding jewelry, for which their father had been saving for years because, as everyone knew, a daughter’s wedding was an expensive affair.