Wednesday, October 28, 2009

a pleasant surprise

A few weeks back, a book was returned to the library with a handwritten note attached. It said the book contained filthy things and should be disposed of. It also stated that the book should not be available to children. Of course, I had to read that book since nothing piques a librarian's interest like a little whiff of censorship.

The book was Tiger Moon by Antonia Michaelis, originally written in German and translated (quite beautifully) by Anthea Bell. It is a series of stories told by Safia, a young woman awaiting her wedding night with a brutish merchant who is too ill to consummate their marriage, to a young eunuch who works in the merchant's harem. The stories are about Farhad, a young street rat and thief, who has been asked to save the daughter of Lord Krishna, one of the many deities in the Hindu religion. His daughter has been kidnapped by the Demon King who will force her to marry him at the next full moon. Farhad's only help, and clue, is a pendant with a picture of Lord Krishna's daughter and instructions to bring the legendary Bloodstone to the city in the desert by the next full moon. Along the way, Farhad gains a companion in Nitish, a sacred white tiger who will turn to stone if he is touched by the "water of life" and makes an enemy--a Frenchman who is searching for the same Bloodstone for his own personal gain. Farhad and Nitish travel throughout India, gaining an uneasy alliance with each other (Farhad is used to fending for himself against all odds and Nitish has been living in exile on an island in a Hindu holy place) that blooms into great fondness and friendship, a novel experience for both of them.

I loved this book. I could feel the bustle of daily life in India and the crowds of people, smell the fires burning and the food cooking, see the colors of the saris worn by Indian women. I cared about Farhad and Nitish, wanting them to succeed in spite of all the problems they faced and the mistakes that they made. The people who moved in and out of their adventures were likeable and interesting and real.

India has been a source of fascination for me since I was 10 years old and read The Secret Garden for the first time. I was the first to sign up for a mission trip with my church that took me to New Delhi, Shahjahanpur, Agra (I burst into tears when I saw the Taj Mahal--a dream come true that was more lovely than I had ever imagined) and Jaipur. The noise, crowds, smells and colors have remained in my head (and my heart) and this book brought my memories back to dazzling life.

Back to the note attached to the book, there were three brief scenes of sensuality/sexuality that were discretely handled (most young readers wouldn't have noticed them at all) but they were necessary to the story and only a part of the story. I will definitely recommend this book to young readers.

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