Can You Hear the Nightbird Call?


402 pages
ISBN 0-676-97604-2
DDC C813'.54




Reviewed by Susan Merskey

Susan Merskey is freelance writer in London, Ontario.


Can You Hear the Nightbird Call? is the story of three women who are
linked by love and tragedy over a span of more than 50 years. Opening in
the Punjab at the time of the India–Pakistan partition in 1947, the
narrative criss-crosses between India and Canada for the next 58 years,
culminating in the explosion of Air India Flight 182 off the coast of
Ireland in 1985.

Bibi-ji steals the heart of her sister’s fiancé. Returning with him
to Vancouver, they become pillars of the Sikh community, but she remains
haunted by the fact that her sister, Kanwar, disappeared during the
violence of Partition. Their restaurant, the Delhi Junction, becomes the
meeting place for the growing Indo-Canadian community in Vancouver.
Bibi-ji’s neighbour Leela was born in Bangalore to a German mother and
a Hindu father. When her husband Balu, insists that they immigrate to
Canada, she struggles to find her way in this country of new
opportunities. Nimmo, orphaned by the devastation that engulfed India
after Partition, and who just might be Kanwar’s daughter, was first
adopted, and then married Satpal. Though they live in poverty, their
life is filled with love and laughter.

Over the years, Bibi-ji has tried to discover what has become of her
sister, but fails to do so until she meets Nimmo and realizes that Nimmo
is indeed Kanwal’s daughter. Bibi-ji’s attempt to raise Nimmo’s
older son, Jasbeer, in Vancouver is strikingly unsuccessful, and the boy
is eventually seduced by Sikh extremist rhetoric.

Moving seamlessly between the emigré community in Vancouver and the
increasingly conflicted world of Punjab and Delhi in the mid-1980s,
Anita Rau Badami’s elegantly written page-turner weaves together the
characters’ personal lives and the political unrest of the times with
shattering effect.


Badami, Anita Rau., “Can You Hear the Nightbird Call?,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 20, 2024,