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Forgotten Fighters

In Farthest Field, journalist Raghu Karnad ’05 tells the stories of his grandfather and two granduncles who died serving the imperial Indian armed forces during World War II. 

It is a war, he argues, that India has chosen for the most part to forget, an epic battle fought on behalf of an empire from which India would separate a mere two years after its conclusion. Karnad writes that the fighting in then-Burma and northeast India constituted the British Empire’s largest and longest campaign, but that the soldiers there already called themselves “the Forgotten Army” in 1944, even as the fighting was ongoing.

Karnad describes his project as “my attempt to draw back the dead”—to not just tell the story of his ancestors, but also to keep the common memory of India’s Second World War alive, “as the people who lived it take their leave.”

In March, Farthest Field won the $165,000 Donald Windham–Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prize at Yale University in the nonfiction category. “Farthest Field represents an astonishing union of imagination and archival research,” the jurors wrote, “in which the bitter ironies of family, loss, memory, and national identity are deeply explored and exceptionally told.”