"Yet it is much more than the story of two men."
British Indian journalist and author Anita Anand’s book The Patient Assassin has won a prestigious history-literary prize in the UK.
The book’s full title reads The Patient Assassin: A True Tale of Massacre, Revenge and the Raj.
Anita Anand tells the story of a young man caught up in the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar, India.
The book beat six other titles for the PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize for History 2020.
The event takes place annually to award non-fiction books of historical content.
The judges described it as a “genuine historical classic” which will be read for decades to come.
Rana Mitter, chair of judges, said: “Anita Anand’s The Patient Assassin is the story of a murderer and his victim.
“It is the story a British colonial official assassinated by an Indian avenger more than two decades after the horrific Amritsar massacre of 1919.
“Yet it is much more than the story of two men.
“It is an account of how global the spirit of anti-imperialist revolution was in the early twentieth century.
“It is also an empathetic account of how categories of good and evil in the context of empire have to be understood in more nuanced and complex ways.
“For those looking to question empire in the present day, it is a book that provides many answers.”
The judges said that when looking for the 2020 winner, they wanted a book packed with historical rigour and a rich base of research.
They wanted a book with the ability to speak to wider historical questions beyond its immediate subject.
Mitter added: “We also hoped that it would be the kind of read we couldn’t put down.
“Getting all of that in one book might have been too much to ask but as it turned out, our 2020 winner has displayed all those qualities and more.”
Anand, a political journalist who has presented television and radio programmes on the BBC for 20 years.
She said she is honoured and overwhelmed to be named winner of a prize that was packed with exceptional books by esteemed historians. She added
“I will be pinching myself for some time to come. The Patient Assassin is very close to my heart.
“Having been weaned on the story of Jallianwala Bagh, thanks to our family connection.
“I wanted to write the history of the massacre and Udham Singh’s revenge as an antidote to the rose-tinted portrayals of the Raj so popular in film and television.
“I also needed to understand how such unspeakable things could be allowed to happen.
“I was faced by complicated characters, contrary accounts, obscure sources, the weight of folklore and deliberate attempts to hide the truth.
“I sometimes doubted that I could do justice to this dark episode.
“I’m so glad I persevered, the recognition for the story would mean a lot to my father and grandfather.”
Hannah Trevarthen from English PEN noted:
“The Patient Assassin is a compelling and truth-telling portrayal of a dark time in modern history.
We’re delighted to be able to throw light on this impressive title.”
The judges also “highly commended” two other titles from the shortlist including Hazel V Carby’s Imperial Intimacies: A Tale of Two Islands.
They called it a “genre-defying work bringing together the archival skill of the trained historian with the unmatchable impact of the memoir”.