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Sunlight on a Broken Column

Attia Hosain

4 Reviews

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Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)

2021 is the sixtieth anniversary of the first publication of Sunlight on a Broken Column, an influential, unforgettable novel set against the turbulent backdrop of Partition.

Sunlight on a Broken Column, first published in 1961, is an unforgettable coming-of-age story set against the turbulent background of Partition.

'The deftness with which Attia Hosain handles the interplay of manners, class, culture and different forms of female power is gorgeously done . . . Laila is such a remarkable heroine - sharp, spirited and passionate' - KAMILA SHAMSIE

'An extraordinary novel, with an extraordinary heroine. Laila - even from the confines of the women's quarters - is a sharp observer of the tumultuous politics, and the cultural, racial, and religious conflicts of the dying days of the Raj. There is such richness here, waiting to be rediscovered. And readers will fall in love with Laila' MONICA ALI

'My life changed. It had been restricted by invisible barriers almost as effectively as the physically restricted lives of my aunts in the zenana. A window had opened here, a door there, a curtain had been drawn aside; but outside lay a world narrowed by one's field of vision'

Laila, orphaned daughter of a distinguished Muslim family, is brought up in her grandfather's traditional household by her aunts, who keep purdah. At fifteen she moves to the home of her 'liberal' but autocratic uncle in Lucknow. As the struggle for Independence sharpens, Laila is surrounded by relatives and university friends caught up in politics, but she is unable to commit herself to any cause: her own fight for independence is a struggle against tradition.

With its stunning evocation of India, its political insight and unsentimental understanding of the human heart, Sunlight on a Broken Column is a classic of Muslim life.

Attia Hosain published only two books, but her writing has influenced generations of writers. Discover Phoenix Fled, Hosain's acclaimed short-story collection, also published in Virago Modern Classics.

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Praise for Sunlight on a Broken Column

  • The deftness with which Attia Hosain handles the interplay of manners, class, culture and different forms of female power is gorgeously done . . . Laila is such a remarkable heroine - sharp, spirited and passionate

  • As if one had parted a curtain, or opened a door, and strayed into the past ... Hosain's greatest strength lies in her ability to draw a rich, full portrait of her society - ignoring none of its many faults and cruelties

  • An extraordinary novel, with an extraordinary heroine. Laila is a sharp observer of the tumultuous politics, and the cultural, racial, and religious conflicts of the dying days of the Raj. There is such richness here, waiting to be rediscovered

  • Despite Sunlight on a Broken Column being 60 years old, this book is still so relevant, for its themes of privilege, patriarchy, and the effects of Empire. It deftly handles themes that in lesser hands could feel heavy, and delivers a beautiful story that leaves a lasting impression.

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Attia Hosain

Attia Hosain (1913-1998) was born in Lucknow and educated at La Martiniere and Isabella Thoburn College, blending an English liberal education with that of a traditional Muslim household where she was taught Persian, Urdu and Arabic. She was the first woman to graduate from among the feudal 'Taluqdari' families into which she was born. Influenced in the 1930s by the nationalist movement and the Progressive Writers' Group in India, she became a journalist, broadcaster and writer. In 1947 she moved to England and presented her own women's programme on the BBC Eastern Service for many years, and appeared on television and the West End stage. She is the author of Phoenix Fled (1953) and Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961).

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