A Beautiful Lie
Irfan Master




An extraordinarily rich debut novel, set in India in 1947 at the time of Partition. Although the backdrop is this key event in Indian history, the novel is even more far-reaching, touching on the importance of tolerance, love and family. The main character is Bilal, a boy determined to protect his dying father from the news of Partition - news that he knows will break his father's heart. With great spirit and determination, and with the help of his good friends, Bilal persuades others to collude with him in this deception, even printing false pages of the local newspaper to hide the ravages of unrest from his father. All that Bilal wants is for his father to die in peace. But that means Bilal has a very complicated relationship with the truth...

"Another memorable debut novel... Beautifully told this debut is set in 1940s' India at the time of the Partition, with themes of tolerance that still resonate today."
The Bookseller

"A challenging but extremely rewarding book dealing with big themes of truth, prejudice, and friendship... The Indian setting conjures up a society on the brink of change... A fascinating introduction to a vital moment in history. Though beware - the ending will make you cry." Daily Mail

"Master has created a richly detailed portrait of India in 1947 and peopled it with a collection of well realised characters, each of them almost strong enough to merit a novel in their own right." The Guardian

"Bilal's love and care for his father is touchingly told in a rich and accessible narrative... He is a writer with much to offer." Books for Keeps

"Powerful and thought-provoking... This is a stunning debut novel." The School Librarian
Ammarah/Pratista, from Queen Elizabeth's Girls' School, Barnet

This historical novel alters some of the factual evidence of Henry VIII’s life. However it is an intriguing novel that centres around his remarkable life and a fascinating period of history.

 

The author ensures that you want to keep reading until the end, using pace and suspense to keep you hooked.

Bary, from De Shalit Aleph School

I read the book A Beautiful Lie by Irfan Master. This book is an historic book which tells us about a Muslim Indian boy whose name is Bilal who is living in the time of the Indian revolution and the dispute between the Muslims and the Hindus. He’s trying to lie to his father about what’s happening to his old and good “mother India” and let him die quietly. But he’s not doing it alone - his three friends are helping him; they’re watching the house so no one apart from Bilal gets in. They are doing everything and even make their own newspaper.


The book was very exciting and interesting. I really liked reading it and couldn’t stop reading. This is one of the first books that I have read in English and I'm sure it will help me in the future. This book taught me a lot about India in those days and I liked it. I'm sure that everyone else of my age who will read it will love it as much as I did.

Bea, from Wren Academy Barnet

I saw the front cover and name of this book and was thoroughly excited. However, as I started reading it, the disappointment kicked in.

 

Like, I think, others, I decided this book didn’t have the key ingredient of ‘unputdownability’. I read the first 10 chapters, all the while persevering to get into the story, but with no success. I read the rest of the book, but I didn’t see what was so amazing about it.

 

However, if you are thinking of reading it, this book is about the time of the partition in India. The boy, Bilal, is determined to keep his dying father from the news of the partition, especially as his father had always dreamed of peace. He goes to all lengths to do this, including printing fake pages of the local newspaper and preventing visitors from seeing him.

 

Overall I would rate this book 6 out of 10 as I think there was a lot missing.

Ben, from University College School London

‘We all do it. On the 14th August 1947, I learnt that everyone lies but that not all lies are equal...’

This quotation from the Prologue, together with an exciting cover image, tries to entice you into the novel, bringing alive a fascinating part of history which I didn’t know much about.  

The story is set in India in 1947 as Bilal’s hometown is starting to erupt in violence. His father, who is slowly dying of cancer, has thought of India as a prosperous country and hates the idea that his homeland will break in two. So Bilal decides he will do everything in his power to prevent the news of what is happening in the town, and the whole of India, of reaching his father to let him die in peace.  

So he hatches a cunning plan with a few of his mischievous friends.  Whenever someone comes to see his father, Bilal stops them from seeing him by giving them a ridiculous excuse, like an extremely contagious illness. So they are prevented from seeing his father, protecting Bilal’s ‘beautiful lie’.

The main character, Bilal, is a lively and intelligent boy who is very caring to his ‘Bapuji’ (father) and has a lot of fun with his friends.  No-one has told him properly about the major historical events affecting India, but he gradually works it out for himself.   He is a likeable character, about my age, which lets me relate well to his life, even if he lived in a very different time and place.

The novel also has a few vivid descriptions of India. ‘The rising sun gently bathing the town and the market traders in a golden light’ is a key example of this.

However, despite its strengths, I did not particularly enjoy the book for two main reasons. Firstly, the author, Irfan Master, writes in a simplistic way, lacking rich language and complex imagery. For example he simply states ‘I wanted to give your book back to you’ rather than expanding on this basic sentence with interesting adjectives, verbs and in other ways.  Also, the storyline lacks tension, and it is hardly the kind of book that you can’t put down, with parts of the novel going on without much plot development or action. 

Overall, I was left disappointed by the book, and would therefore rate this novel 3 out of 5 stars.

Binitha, from Wren Academy Barnet

An extraordinary novel set in India at 1947, at the time of the partition. The importance of this book [is that it] teaches love, tolerance and family. The main character is Bilal, a boy who is determined to protect his dying father. With great spirit and determination, and the help of his good friends, he persuades others to come to an understanding with him. He prints false pages in the local newspaper, to hide the outbreak of war from his father. Bilal wants his father to die in peace, that’s all he wants, but that means he has to lie - but not a bad lie, a beautiful lie.

 

This book is quite a brave book. It was really compelling that Bilal would go to all the trouble, just so his father could die with his dreams of India still alive in his head. This is such a detailed book, and it has a clear description of what is going through Bilal’s head. I would recommend this book to everyone who loves culture and love.

Britto, from St James Catholic High School

I think A Beautiful Lie is a lovely novel. It is a very sad story told in a happy way. I think the author deserves a medal for explaining what life in India was like back in 1947, ages and ages ago when it was called Hindustan. It’s hard to imagine a world without computers and the internet.

The story is about a young 13-year-old boy who tries to keep the news of the division of India from his dying father. I think I was taken by the novel as the boy is about my age and we both come from India and both enjoy similar adventures. The difference is that he was born in 1934 and I was born in 1998. 

The book is packed full of detail about life in India and there are lots of descriptions about feelings but I would like to have learnt a little more facts about Pakistan .

Overall I would give the book 9/10

Caleb, from Wren Academy Barnet

I didn’t really get into this book at all. I read the first 15 chapters of the book and just couldn’t read on. I got quite bored with it and it didn’t really grab my attention. Over the first 15 chapters I really tried to persevere and get into the book but I didn’t get into it at all. I didn’t read on from this point as I didn’t want to be bored throughout a really long book.

I would recommend this book to people who like books that don’t really grab their attention but try to get a great understanding of the book.

Cyara, from Copthall School, Barnet

A beautiful, heart-warming, tear-jerking story, composed with the grace of a master puppeteer, dancing his puppets, creating an enchanting story.  [It is] written from the perspective of a young boy trying to deal with the turmoil of his sick and dying father - or bapuji - and struggling to make sense of the changing world around him. Set in the India of years past, we (as readers) witness the great troubles and tribulations that befell India, as the country was split in three: Hindu, Sikh and Muslim, judged by their religious ethnicity. History repeats itself once more, as prejudice takes a key role, and fear runs the streets, hand in hand with violence.

 

Roam the streets with Bilal and his close-knit group of friends: Chota the Hindu; Manjeet, a Sikh; and Saleem, a Muslim along with Bilal. In a time when war seems to be raging all around them, are they the only ones who can put aside their minor differences, and live beside one another in peace?

 

Irfan Master has created a tear-wrenching story that pulls on your heartstrings, and Bilal’s extraordinary story will stay with you much longer than the slightly undersized 304 pages, and it is a lesson to us all, that sometimes it is [not] the truth, but the lies that can be the most beautiful of all.

Daniela, from Wren Academy Barnet

The book is set during the year 1947 in India. It follows a young boy called Bilal as he tries to hide the current tension spreading through India from his dying father. Don’t worry I’m not expecting you to believe that a boy of 12 could do such a thing alone: he has help from his friends Manjeet, Chota and Saleem.

 

Bilal was by far my favourite character. When I found out he was only two years younger than me I found it very hard to believe and was constantly picturing him as a child of 8 or 9 years old. Then I realised that he has a sense of innocence which has been torn away from the modern world. He was a very well-written character which made him easier to empathise with. You felt for him because he almost single-handedly cared for his father, a job which no child should have to do. I could relate to Bilal as he strived for excellence in all things, something that many people try but find very hard to succeed at.

 

A Beautiful Lie is a very hard concept. We believe that lies cause pain and suffering, they do more harm than good. Bilal created a lie for the total opposite reason. He did not want to harm his father in his fragile state.

 

The book was brilliant. It made you laugh and cry. Not only was it extremely well written, it had a great concept and was very educational.  I learnt about events which happened in India at the time – which I knew nothing about before – as well as the meanings of words such as bapuji which means father. The book was also great for your brain muscles, it really made you think. I still don’t fully understand the message of the book, whether it was that lying is not the option or to care for the ones you love. I will never know but I think that is one of the things that make it such a good book. I will be looking out for Ifan Master’s next novel. I would recommend this book without a doubt. 

Ellie, from East Barnet School

This book is amazing and it's so detailed! It is a fun non-fiction book, it is set in India and is from an Indian child's perspective.

The story is about a boy who told a lie on the 14th august 1947; he knew that everyone told lies but some lies are worse than others. Now the truth needs to be told!

I like Irfan Master's style of writing because it has the characters' emotions and feelings, so it makes you feel like you are the character.

The book carries out a strong moral, which is tell the truth because the truth is worth telling!

Overall I would rate this book 9.5/10 because it is sad and happy at the same time and I think it is nice to have a mix of both in a book.

Hannah, from Wren Academy Barnet

The main character of this novel, Bilal, is a boy determined to protect his dying father from the news of Partition; he hides the truth from his father in order to allow him to die in peace. Bilal’s relationship with the truth makes for an interesting novel that interests you as well as simultaneously culturing you about the atmosphere in India in 1947. This thought-provoking tale generates much drama that kept me interested all the way to the end of the novel. The protagonist character invokes a feeling of empathy from the reader which is one of the things that makes this book such a good story; I would recommend it to everyone.

Ishaan, from University College School London

A Beautiful Lie is a book about a boy who tells his father a lie and how it affects him. In some parts of the book there is a lot of suspense although quite a lot of it is quite boring. I find it quite boring as I thrive for action and there was not as much as I would have liked. As well as that, the book is quite predictable. It is also quite a sad story. Everything in Bilal’s life is dying and the only thing he has is his friends.

 

However, the author, Irfan Master, conveys and describes his characters brilliantly. He tells all the quirks of the people and the starting description is never ruptured but kept to. He also shows the bond between Bilal and his bapuji, his father. His description is fantastic even with the not so big parts and characters.

 

The genre of the book is a sad book with some action. This might also be a reason why I did not like the book. I like to read fantasy or sci-fi. So it was not really the right type of book for me.

 

The setting is described once again very well; it seems as if [this is the] best aspect of Master’s work. He describes the market and the school quite well although sometimes he exaggerates a bit like when Chota throws a snake into the classroom - although it is quite believable [in] the setting of India.

 

Overall, I do not recommend this book to people who like sci-fi or fantasy but if you like a real life story then this is the right book for you.

Jordan, from University College School London

A Beautiful Lie is a fictional story based in 1948. The story is about a young boy called Bilal and his everyday life before the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan.


Blilal’s farther is dying and he wants to save him from worrying and therefore hide the fact that India is to be partitioned. In order to stop his dad hearing any news, Bilal lies to people to stop them visiting, for instance by saying his father has something infectious.


I feel Bilal is a nice, caring and friendly boy who does well at school... and is there to help his dad. In addition, he has good friends who will help him hide the truth. 


I felt the book started slowly and I found it hard to relate to Bilal. However, I did enjoy the historical aspect of this story.

Josh, from East Barnet School

A brilliant book! It is very informative, but at the same time it is a fun read about what could have happened during the period of the partitioning of India from a child’s perspective. You would think it was a recounting of what actually happened as it is so detailed.

The book also carries a very strong moral - is the truth worth telling? Irfan Master’s technique of writing will also make you feel for the characters. Overall, I rate the book 9/10 as it could have had an even softer emotional side to it.

Kirijana, from Copthall School, Barnet

When I finished A Beautiful Lie I felt really sad and heartbroken. I felt this because of what Bilal is going through and doesn’t tell the truth before his father dies. My favourite character is Bilal because he has to look after his Dad who is nearly dying and he also doesn’t want his father to stress. Bilal also lies to his father about what is happening in the outside world and his father believes what he says. At the end, Bila ldoesn’t tell the truth before his father dies. I would give this book 10 /10 because it uses lots of interesting words to describe the feelings and emotions of the characters.

Lilly-Anne, from Wren Academy Barnet
A Beautiful Lie was an extremely fascinating book. I really enjoyed reading it, as it was based on the true story about the partition of India between the Hindus and Muslims. I found it sad at times as Bilal’s father was dying whilst the beautiful country that he lived in, where everyone was friends no matter what religion, [now had] enemies fighting against each other. Altogether I really enjoyed the book, as I learnt a lot about the partition of India that I did not know before. My favourite character was Bilal because he persevered, although he was going through his father dying and his country at war. Altogether I really enjoyed the book as I found it very engaging and interesting.
Lily, from Wren Academy Barnet

I’ve always been of the opinion that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Before I even started reading the book, my first thoughts were rather ashamedly ‘Oh no. Not another book about impoverished yet strong-hearted children again. Please.’ Looking back I feel ashamed that I thought of A Beautiful Lie like that because I found it so extremely touching and, well, beautiful.

 

Although the backdrop for the story is set in 1940s India, it is far-reaching and relatable to others on the importance of love, tolerance and family.

 

Our protagonist Bilal is a young boy living in India during times of political unrest. To make life tougher for him, his dad is slowly passing away. Bilal’s father doesn’t like the idea of India being split in two but during these harsh political times, hope isn’t very strong. All Bilal wants is for his father to die in peace, without being troubled by political sadness and worry. Bilal will have to keep his father protected by beautiful lies from the truth until it’s all over – for India or his father. This goes so far that he even prints false pages of the local newspapers to keep his father in the dark.

 

So much admiration is built up for this extremely mature, intelligent and determined young boy in his quest to help those he loves. He faces challenges from his older brother who wants their father to know the truth, not kept sheltered from this intricate web of beautiful lies.

 

Perhaps as I came into reading this book with such negative thoughts, its brilliance was exaggerated with pleasant surprise, but either way, I thoroughly recommend this book. 

Lily, from Wren Academy Barnet

I’ve always been of the opinion that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Before I even started reading the book, my first thoughts were rather ashamedly ‘Oh no. Not another book about impoverished yet strong-hearted children again. Please.’ Looking back I feel ashamed that I thought of A Beautiful Lie like that because I found it so extremely touching and, well, beautiful.

 

Although the backdrop for the story is set in 1940s India, it is far-reaching and relatable to others on the importance of love, tolerance and family.

 

Our protagonist Bilal is a young boy living in India during times of political unrest. To make life tougher for him, his dad is slowly passing away. Bilal’s father doesn’t like the idea of India being split in two but during these harsh political times, hope isn’t very strong. All Bilal wants is for his father to die in peace, without being troubled by political sadness and worry. Bilal will have to keep his father protected by beautiful lies from the truth until it’s all over – for India or his father. This goes so far that he even prints false pages of the local newspapers to keep his father in the dark.

 

So much admiration is built up for this extremely mature, intelligent and determined young boy in his quest to help those he loves. He faces challenges from his older brother who wants their father to know the truth, not kept sheltered from this intricate web of beautiful lies.

 

Perhaps as I came into reading this book with such negative thoughts, its brilliance was exaggerated with pleasant surprise, but either way, I thoroughly recommend this book. 

Michael, from University College School London

When I was given the book A Beautiful Lie by my school teacher I thought it would be just another school reading book. I intended to read it that following night and it only took me five or six days to complete.


I was immediately intrigued by the blurb on the back (forgive me for adding it here: 'Everybody lies. We all do it. On 14th August 1947, I learnt that everybody lies but that not all lies are equal... Many years ago I told one lie that has taken on a life  of its own. The only time I was sure of anything was all those years ago, when I was a boy. When I was lying. But now the truth has to be told...'). A very cryptic paragraph, it made me immediately want to know more.


The story tells of a young boy called Bilal living in an ever-changing violent India. It is set during the partition. His Father, Gulam, often referred to as Bapuji (an Indian word meaning Father), is suffering from cancer and is in love with India the way it is. And so Bilal takes it upon himself to keep the truth from him, but it has horrific consequences...


Irfan Master wrote this book in an interesting way as the whole story is really a flashback when he [Bilal] is telling others about sixty years later. I thought it was a bit slow at the beginning but got better and I was fully hooked by the middle. I read it in two days but spent three more thinking about it.


The language used is quite simple but the actual storyline is quite grown up so I would probably recommend this book for ten to fourteen year olds. It was quite a sad read but I am going to rate it 8/10. Enjoy!

Nimbe, from Copthall School, Barnet

A Beautiful Lie is set in India in 1947, following a life of a boy with the father dying of cancer, and India slowly crumbling into pieces. Bilal tries his best to keep the truth from his father because he does not want him to die knowing what’s happening to his country. This is a very hard task for Bilal, but he is aiming to fulfil it.

 

Bilal starts off with a plan that would keep all visitors away from his dad: he uses his 3 closest friends as look out; but with his brother, a political activist, in the way, this makes it harder than he thought.

 

I already knew by the synopsis I would absolutely love this book!  I love books that are set in the past and also love very sad books, books that are sorrowful and heart-breaking.

 

I enjoyed this book because it is set in a different culture – one we don’t know much about at all.  This makes is more interesting and more curious to read. Even though it’s fiction you learn something in every chapter.

 

Once you pick up this book, you are immediately gripped and I think that is what makes a very great book.

 

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone!

Oscar, from University College School London

A Beautiful Lie is a wonderful book that gripped me from its first page to its final word. It is centred on Bilal, an Indian boy who lives in a market town, whose father is terminally cancerous. The mission that Bilal is trying to complete is one that presents many challenges, both emotional and physical, for Bilal is determined to hide the truth from his bedridden father who is a huge believer in a united India, even as Muslim and Hindu gangs roam the streets, rioting when they meet.

 

A Beautiful Lie has many moments of such vivid description that one feels drawn into the story. You cannot avoid empathising with Bilal – you feel his sadness, his fear and his determination as an almost tangible force as he strives to achieve his goal, all of the way.

 

A Beautiful Lie is a very thought-provoking book with an ending that even the most unemotional reader would cry at while reading. It is an incredible book.

Pavi, from Queen Elizabeth's Girls' School, Barnet

An extraordinary debut novel, set in 1947 India at the time of partition. Although the backdrop is this key event in Indian history, the novel is even more far-reaching, touching on the importance of tolerance, love and family. The main character is Bilal, a boy determined to protect his dying father from the news of Partition - news that he knows will break his father's heart. With great spirit and determination, and with the help of his good friends, Bilal persuades others to collude with him in this deception, even printing false pages of the local newspaper to hide the ravages of unrest from his father. All that Bilal wants is for his father to die in peace. As stories go, this is an extremely strong novel by Irfan Master which has definitely catapulted straight onto my list of novelists to keep a close eye on. 

Roei, from De Shalit Aleph School

I liked this book a lot, it was very interesting and I learnt a lot from it. The book [does not have] too many annoying little boring little details and I understood most of it, but some parts of the book weren't understandable, especially because they were written in the Indian language and those words' translations were written at the end of the book instead of on the same page with the difficult words. Another good thing is that in the places where the plot gets a little bit too complicated the author explains it well - except for one or two chapters after the big fight when they got lost. I am very happy that I picked this book and I recommend reading it - but I remind you to read the index of the Indian words at the end of the book first so you can understand the whole story!   

Sam, from University College School London

This book is a compelling and essential read for any aspiring historian or any curious reader. I have always been intrigued by ... major historic events about which I had no knowledge or awareness. Set against the backdrop of India breaking away from British colonial rule in 1947, this novel  portrays the politics, simmering religious intolerance and hatred leading to the partition of the mainly Hindu India and the creation of the separate Muslim state of  Pakistan. The effects on the people of the region as a direct result of partition can be seen in great detail throughout the book.

 

The novel begins in 1947, just before the partition of India and is told from the perspective of a young Muslim boy, Bilal, who lives with his terminally ill father. Although we see little of his father, it is evident that he could never bear religious intolerance or the prospect of India being torn apart. As the story progresses, the partition of India is declared; Bilal, keenly aware that given his father’s fragile state of health this news would break his heart, determines to shield him from the news at all costs. The selfless Bilal resolves to create ‘a beautiful lie’ to isolate his father from news of the simmering tensions and growing violence between rival groups of Muslims and Hindus and the ensuing declaration of partition. To achieve this, Bilal enlists the aid of his friends - Chota the Hindu, Saleem the Sikh and Manjeet the Muslim - to shield his father from the truth.

 

As the story unfolds, the lie unravels and the story becomes tense, frightening and increasingly violent. Bilal witnesses at first hand riots and this, with the use of his first person narrative throughout the story, allows the reader to empathise strongly with what he is experiencing.

 

This book contains many metaphors and a vivid portrayal of religious intolerance and those who oppose it. For example, Bilal’s father is extremely proud of India and is a metaphor for a strong sense of morality: he believes that all [people] should be able to coexist peacefully regardless of their religions as they share so much in common. Bilal’s father is also metaphorically linked to the fate of India in that he is dying alongside with his untainted and (in his eyes) sacred and intangible image of India.  Bilal‘s friends also play a major part in the book as they are from a variety of religions and yet they still remain friends despite all the political tension: they represent the peaceful coexistence of religions Bilal’s father believed in. In contrast, the rioters represent the chaos and the ease with which whole communities can be destroyed; they are bloodthirsty and represent the worst extremes of human behaviour.

 

There are many themes in the book, which poignantly portrays the worst excesses of  religious intolerance and unbridled violence, the political situation at the time, as well as the great value of friendship, loyalty and trust. The big question raised by the novel is whether lying can sometimes be morally justified: both father and son lie for the benefit of the other. It also looks at the switching of roles between father and son, the fear of death and the mental imprisonment of the burden placed upon Bilal in trying to protect his father from the truth.

 

However, there are features which to a certain extent detract from the power of the novel. The author’s language is relatively bland, which impairs the extent to which the reader can empathise with Balil as well as understand more of the dreadful predicament in which he finds himself. The author could, in addition, have allowed the reader to be much more orientated with the history of the time by involving much more detail about the partition of India in the story itself. However, despite these criticisms, the novel has many redeeming features and overall is moving and thought-provoking, with a strong message about tolerance and peace. It is well worth the read.

Tom, from University College School London

 

A Beautiful Lie is an extremely touching story written by Irfan Master describing a short period of a boy's (Bilal) life when he was 13 years old. He describes the pain Bilal experiences of finding out that his Bapuji (dad) is dying of cancer. Bilal decides to devise a plot to make sure that his old Bapuji never finds out about the partition of India and all the rioting. He wants his Bapuji to die happy in the India he loves.

 

Bilal’s three friends - Manjeet, Chota and Saleem - agree to aid him in his struggle to keep the truth from his Bapuji. Everyday while the boys are at school, Chota stays on the school roof and keeps watch of Bilal's house. If he sees anyone approaching it he would throw a pebble into the class room so as to alert Bilal. Bilal always finds a way to sneak away and prevent the person entering the house.

 

But Bilal soon realises he needs more than just the help of his friends. He decides to confide in his Master-ji (his teacher) and Doctor-ji (the village doctor). They both agree to help him and do whatever they can to prevent Bapuji knowing the truth. But as the arrival of the partition of India approaches rioting strikes in the village. Bilal's Bhai (brother) is never at home and is always out fighting with other people who are not of the same religion. But as soon as Bhai returns home he brings trouble. His enemies find out he has a little brother and decide to persecute Bilal...

 

This book was definitely one of the best books I've ever read and made me cry a lot. I would recommend this book to everyone of all ages.

 

Yumna, from Wren Academy Barnet

This story is wonderful. I love how Irfan Master describes the relationship between all the characters, the beginning is so sweet and innocent, it's hard not to like it. I haven't read many stories about the history of either India or Pakistan so this book was a real eye-opener on the history of my own country; the amount of detail in the book suggests that Irfan Master perhaps has some experience of the event. I find it easy to relate to the character of Bilal, and many other characters too. The group of friends all come from different backgrounds and I like that, it shows how much peace and respect was woven into the story and more novels like this should be written.