Crossing Over is the most recent volume in the series from Mänoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing, published by the University of Hawai'i Press. For two decades, Mänoa has been featuring contemporary literature from countries and regions in Asia, the Pacific, and the Americas. Many of these works have never before appeared in English translation, or have not been readily accessible to American and other English-speaking readers.
According to the Bowker Global Books in Print database, works of translation account for about three percent of all books published in the U.S., and almost three-quarters of those translations are nonfiction. American readers are thus not only deprived of the abundance of fine international literature, but also of the insights and intimate knowledge of other people which only literature can provide. Given recent U.S. intervention in global affairs, there may have never been a time when reading the literature of America's transnational neighbors has been more important.
Crossing Over comprises stories from three South Asian countries—India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh—with a combined population of over two billion. The works here focus on the cataclysmic experiences of Partition in 1947 and its aftermath, including the Bangladesh War of Independence in 1971. The selection is by no means exhaustive. At best, it serves as a sample of a rich and vast body of literature being produced in many languages of South Asia. The purpose of gathering these stories, however, has been neither to offer solutions to intractable political and social issues nor to assign collective blame. Instead, the stories in Crossing Over depict the responses and emotions of ordinary people caught in a tragic turning point in history, when tolerance, respect, and compassion broke down. Written by some of the region's finest writers, these works make us aware that such responses are not exclusive to South Asia. They are possible everywhere.
During the last few years, renewed attention has been given to what is called Partition Literature. These works of fiction, poetry, and memoir describe [End Page vii] and explore the events that occurred when the British colonial government departed South Asia, and the nation of Pakistan was created by hastily drawn borders that carved out portions of eastern and western India. Paki-stan gained independence just after midnight on August 14, 1947, and India on August 15. This caused frantic Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and other communities to cross the newly formed national borders in both directions in a massive migration, as sectarian violence broke out immediately.
In the tumultuous hours and days following the British exodus, more than a million people experienced unprecedented horrors: communal rioting, murder, rape, abduction, disease, and starvation. The tragedies of Partition, however, did not end with the migrations and resettlements; they continue today. On several occasions, open warfare has broken out between Pakistan and India, and communal violence and riots continue to erupt in parts of the Subcontinent. Partition also has had ramifications beyond the region, not the least being the precedent it set for other nations locked in communal strife.
Authors writing about the enormity of the social violence and the complexity of individual experience of Partition were, and continue to be, challenged by a difficult task. The shock of incomprehensible barbaric acts drove many to silence, denial, rage, guilt, lamentation, and despair. What is there to say, and how should it be said? To whom can an author speak about such things without giving in to the temptation of assigning blame to a particular community, or of withholding sympathy and compassion for all who suffered, regardless of religious or ethnic affiliation? How can storytelling give us the courage to accept our complicity in creating a world where atrocities are committed and endured by people very much like ourselves? How can stories tell what "really happened" while also giving us reason to believe that an ethical, humane future is possible?
An aesthetic shaping of the incidents of Partition has...