Archives

Damerosehay novels by Elizabeth Goudge

The Bird in the Tree by Elizabeth Goudge.
Pilgrim’s Inn by Elizabeth Goudge.
The Heart of the Family by Elizabeth Goudge.

I read these three related novels in the wrong order. I read Pilgrim’s Inn and reviewed it before I read The Bird in the Tree, the book that begins the saga of the Eliot family and their association with the house, Damerosehay. Then I found a mass market paperback copy of The Heart of the Family at a thrift store for 50 cents, and I brought it home and read it. Each of the three books in the ongoing story was a delight, a joy, and a wonder. I now want to re-read them all in the correct order, just to see what I missed the first time through. But I think I’ll wait a year or so, maybe read them in the winter rather than in the summer, just to see if that changes my appreciation of these novels or my thoughts and feelings about them.

The Bird in the Tree is the story of a man, David Eliot, who has fallen in love with his uncle’s young wife. The wife, Nadine, also loves David Eliot passionately and her own husband, George Eliot, not at all. Unfortunately, or fortunately as the case may be, there are children: sensitive Ben, rambunctious Tommy, and shy diminutive four year old Caroline. And also there is Lucilla Eliot, matriarch of the family, to consider. Lucilla has made the country home, Damrosehay, a sanctuary and a place of community for the Eliots and those who love them. Lucilla, with the help of her spinster daughter Margaret, raised David after the death of his parents during The Great War. And Lucilla will not be pleased with the idea that David and Nadine plan to disregard family ties, tradition, morality, and the children, to follow their own hearts in consummating this love of a lifetime.

Elizabeth Goudge shows how this new “freedom to be true to one’s own heart” is not so new, after all. We hope to call the old adultery and sexual immorality by new names such as “truth” and “beauty” and free love and thereby make them palatable and without negative consequences for family unity and especially for the children. One of the reasons I love this trilogy is that each book, in its own narrative way, shows the falsity of that lie. Sin, whether we call it sin or whether we call it freedom and truth, has its consequences, and the only way to live through the consequences is to accept the suffering and offer it up to God as prayer and sacrifice.

I wrote about Pilgrim’s Inn here. Such a wonderful and romantic story, in the best sense of the latter word. Goudge does not gloss over the difficulties, treacheries, and tragedies inherent in the best of families and the best of marriages. In fact The Heart of the Family makes those deep sorrows vividly clear, and I was reminded that there are many hurts and betrayals that are never completely healed this side of heaven. We fail one another abominably. But one can, with God’s grace and assistance, create a sort of a respite or a haven of home and family to help encourage the weak, cast down the proud, and heal the broken-hearted. I am always interested in the idea (and the ideal) of family and community and how to make those healing connections happen in our very imperfect and broken lives.

I do think the first two books of the trilogy are the best, with the third book trying to say too much with too little story. None of these books is filled with action: people go for walks and drives, have lovely philosophical and theological conversations, make decisions in the middle of the night, and visit each other in the day. They drink a lot of tea, of course, since this is set in merrie old England. Yet some how all the descriptive passages and the long conversational interludes work for the most part. However, I would warn readers that in the third book, The Heart of the Family, Ms. Goudge becomes a little too philosophical/mystical/esoteric for even my tastes. And I like all those things. Nevertheless, if I just kept reading, the story came back and the characters said and did interesting and thought-provoking things, and my own interest in the the novel was renewed.

I highly recommend this series of novels, as well as The Dean’s Watch, The Rosemary Tree, Green Dolphin Street, and Gentian Hill, all novels that I have read and enjoyed by this author. I do believe that this is my Year of Elizabeth Goudge, and I plan to read her children’s book, The Little White Horse, next. Elizabeth Goudge’s writing reminds me a little bit of Madeleine L’Engle’s adult novels, which is high praise for me since Ms. L’Engle is one of my favorites.

In case any of the rest of you want to go on a Goudge binge:
Another review of the trilogy at ShelfLove.
Review of Island Magic by Goudge at Worthwhile Books.
Review of I Saw Three Ships by Elizabeth GOudge (a Christmas story) at Worthwhile Books.
The Valley of Song, recommended at Charlotte’s Library.
Little White Horse, recommended by Amy at Hope Is the Word.
Janet at Across the Page on The Little White Horse.
The Scent of Water, reviewed by Janet at Across the Page.
The Dean’s Watch, also at Across the Page.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

K-Drama Update, Summer 2015

So, here are the Korean drama series (K-dramas)that I’ve watched so far. Links are to full reviews.

'11_1024' photo (c) 2004, Lawliet Tsuki - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/
Full House. Romantic comedy with an implausible premise but irresistible characters and romantic scenes.

Queen Inhyun’s Man, aka The Queen and I. This one is an historical/time travel romance. A modern actress falls for a medieval (late 1600′s) hero who has a magic scroll that transports him back and forth in time.

King 2 Hearts. In an alternate history Korea, South Korea has a king with an irresponsible little brother, Prince Jae Ha. North Korea is still communist, but the two countries are trying to make peace by means of participating in a military contest together with a joint Korean team. Hang Ah is the star of the North Korean military contingent, and she and Jae Ha spar and eventually come together in an attempt to bridge the cultural gap between North and South. This drama is still my favorite K-drama ever.
Headmistress at The Common Room on King2Hearts.

City Hunter is a superhero drama, an Asian take-off on Batman with complications. Actor Lee Min-Ho is Yoon-sung, a young man who has been trained from birth to take revenge on the men who killed his father. Kim Nana is a complication who threatens to sidetrack Yoon-sung in his program of revenge, but he maintains his secret identity as City Hunter to protect Kim Nana from his sad, dangerous, and lonely mission.

Iris (Season 1) Unusual for K-dramas, this series has at least two seasons. I’ve only watched the first one. A spy thriller, lots of violence, fascinating, conflicted characters. My Semicolon review here. I think I’ll try the second season soon, which I’ve heard is even better than the first one.

The Greatest Love is a much lighter romantic comedy, a mash-up of Pride and Prejudice, A Star Is Born, and several soap opera plots. It was rather disconcerting to see actress Yoo In-na, who was the cute and perky leading lady in Queen Inhyun’s Man, playing the bad girl in this romcom. Doko Jin, the Darcy character, is way too proud for his own good, but he does eventually come down to earth, and the eventual resolution of the conflict is rewarding and fun to watch.
Reviewed by The Headmistress at The Common Room.

Flower Boy Next Door. Enrique Geum (Yoon Si Yoon) is a popular video game star from Spain, and Go Dok Mi is a reclusive writer who guards her heart because she has been hurt deeply in the past. When Enrique catches Dok Mi spying on him —with binoculars–the fun begins as he pursues her. The boy next door, Jin Rak, is also interested in Dok Mi, but she just wants to be left alone–or does she? Dok Mi has one mood throughout: sullen and pouty and depressed. Nevertheless, the story was fun, and Enrique/Yoon is cute.

I Miss You Terribly sad melodrama dealing with sensitive themes such as child and spousal abuse, desertion, bullying, kidnapping and rape. It’s also about identity. Who am I? Am I who I decide to be? Is my family the people to whom I was born or the people I decide to make my family? And what about redemption and forgiveness? The ending, which is what I’ve learned you have to watch for in K-dramas, is heart-rending, but satisfying.

That Winter, the Wind Blows is a melodrama about a poor little rich blind girl who has no one to trust. Her father has just died (in mysterious circumstances). Her “step-mother” is really her father’s mistress and may be after her money. Her fiancé also may have ulterior motives. So she goes looking for her long lost brother from whom she was parted at the age of five, before she went blind. Unfortunately for her, the brother she finds isn’t her real brother. Complications ensue. The cinematography is beautiful in this one, and the acting is excellent, except when they linger too long on the hopeless, longing looks. But the ending is (warning!) really, really ambiguous and unsatisfying.

Dream High is a rom-com set in a performing arts high school. The Headmistress compares it to the American TV series Fame. Lots of competition, winning and losing, who’s the best singer/dancer/composer/performer. And there’s some cute romance among the (older) teachers and parents and among the students.

King of Dramas is a drama about making K-dramas. The leading characters are all K-drama writers or actors and actresses or producers. The Headmistress says it’s filled with inside jokes, which obviously went over my head, but I enjoyed the sort-of inside look at the industry anyway. The ending is rather unbelievably sappy, but I didn’t mind. It was much better than a more realistic ending would have been.

Heirs is a fairly new K-drama (fall 2013) starring Lee Min-ho, an incredibly cute and popular actor who also starred in City Hunter and a popular one I couldn’t get into, Boys Over Flowers. Lee Min-ho was good in this drama about high school puppy love among the rich and famous, actually rich boy and poor girl. The girl was a little bit annoying with all the pouting and enduring sadness. The girl’s mom was mute, and I enjoyed her character. The actress who played the mom was excellent. The rich dads in this drama are all horrible, and the rich moms aren’t much better. And yet the children try really hard to respect and obey their villainous parents. It’s a Korean thing, and I’m not sure it’s a bad Korean thing since most parents aren’t nearly as autocratic and manipulative and unreasonable as the parents in Heirs. At least, parents in the USA aren’t that bad, and I hope they aren’t in Korea either. I liked Heirs, and I agree with what The Headmistress says about the relationship between the brothers. However, the American in me really wanted both brothers to walk away from their dictator daddy and start their own company. They nearly did, but all is forgiven in the end.

I tried to watch You Who Came from the Stars—three different times—on the strength of recommendations from lots of K-drama fans, but I just couldn’t get interested in the same way that I fell into most of the above. I must have missed something that everyone else loved, but I don’t know what it was. I watched several, actually many, episodes, but the magic just wasn’t there for me.

Th K-dramas I’m going to try next: IRIS 2, God’s Quiz, It’s Okay That’s Love, Marriage Not Dating, Scent of a Woman, What’s Up?, Shut Up Flower Boy Band, When a Man Loves, and Pasta. Most of these suggestions I got from this post at The Common Room.

Arcady’s Goal by Eugene Yelchin

Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote the essay “Live Not By Lies” in 1974, just before he was arrested by the Soviet police and exiled from his country. My Saturday Review friend Glynn led me to the essay in a review he wrote.

Arcady’s Goal is the story of a boy in Stalinist Russia who has been raised on lies. Arcady lives in an orphanage. The director of the orphanage lies about how the boys are treated and skims the provisions from the government, meant for the orphans, to feather his own nest. The inspectors of orphanages go along with the lies. Everyone is complicit, even the boys themselves, who show off their soccer skills to earn a bit of favored treatment. When Ivan Ivanych comes to the orphanage, disguised as an inspector, but really a bereft father looking for an orphan to adopt, Arcady makes an impression. But can Arcady and Ivan break through all the lies, the ones they have been told by the government, the ones they have told to survive, and even the lies they have told themselves, to make a real family built on trust?

Born and educated in Russia, author Eugene Yeltsin left the former Soviet Union when he was twenty-seven years old. His other children’s novel set in Communist Soviet Union, Breaking Stalin’s Nose, won a Newbery Honor. His writing style in this book is stark and unadorned, like the subject. The descriptions, like the illustrations, are gray and without much hope, although Arcady’s courage and tenacity shine through even in the soccer games he plays so well. And yet the book has an almost implausible happy ending as Arcady and his adoptive father do manage to form a connection.

Perhaps I am a pessimist, but I don’t know if I can believe that it so easy to change from believing and participating in The Lie to confronting lies with the truth. Easy or not, I do believe that I and especially my children are going to find out very soon what it is like to live in a culture permeated and ultimately ruled by lies and half-truths. In fact, we are already faced with the choice of whether to participate in the lies our society is telling or to stand up and declare the truth. There will be a cost for the latter decision, and there may not be a happy ending in this life.

“And the simplest and most accessible key to our self-neglected liberation lies right here: Personal non-participation in lies. Though lies conceal everything, though lies embrace everything, but not with any help from me. . . . So in our timidity, let each of us make a choice: Whether consciously, to remain a servant of falsehood—of course, it is not out of inclination, but to feed one’s family, that one raises his children in the spirit of lies—or to shrug off the lies and become an honest man worthy of respect both by one’s children and contemporaries.”

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

Happy Canada Day!

July 1 is Canada Day. Here are some suggestions, mostly fiction, if you’re ready to celebrate with a good book:

Picture Books:

Bannatyne-Cugnet, Jo. A Prairie Alphabet. Illustrated by Yvette Moore.
Carney, Margaret. At Grandpa’s Sugar Bush. Illustrated by Janet Wilson.
Carrier, Roch. The Hockey Sweater. Illustrated by Sheldon Cohen.
Gay, Marie-Louise. Stella, Queen of the Snow. Illus. Groundwood, 2000.
Ellis, Sarah. Next Stop! Illus. by Ruth Ohi. Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2000.
Harrison, Ted. A Northern Alphabet.
Kurelek, William. A Prairie Boy’s Winter.
Kurelek, William. A Prairie Boy’s Summer.
McFarlane, Sheryl. Jessie’s Island. Illustrated by Sheena Lott. Orca Book Publishers, 2005.
Service, Robert. The Cremation of Sam McGee. Illustrated by Ted Harrison.

Children’s Fiction:

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, of course and all its sequels. Essential Canadiana.
Our Canadian Girl and Dear Canada series.
Burnford, Sheila. The Incredible Journey.
Curtis, Christopher Paul. Elijah of Buxton.
Semicolon review here.
Hobbs, Will. Far North.
Mowat, Farley. Lost in the Barrens.
Mowat, Farley. Owls in the Family.
Stanbridge, Joanne. The Leftover Kid. Northern Lights, 1997.

YA and Adult Fiction:

Craven, Margaret. I Heard the Owl Call My Name.
Freedman, Benedict and Nancy. Mrs. Mike.
Mitchell, W.O. Who Has Seen the Wind?
Paulsen, Gary. Hatchet.

Nonfiction:
Evangeline and the Acadians by Robert Tallant.
Canadian history series by Thomas Costain. Although I haven’t read this series of books, Costain is one of my favorite authors of narrative nonfiction. There are six books in the series, and the first is called The White and the Gold.

I haven’t read all of the books on this list, but I plan to, whenever I can manage to find time for a Canada Project. Titles in bold print are available from Meriadoc Homeschool Library.

More Canadian books, mostly for kids by Becky at Farm School.

Celebrating Literary Canada at Chasing Ray in 2008.

Any more Canadian book suggestions?

The Collapse by Mary Elise Sarotte

The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall by Mary Elise Sarotte.

World Magazine just published its annual issue on books, and one of the books chosen as a runner-up for book of the year in the history/biography category was The Collapse. Coincidentally, I had already heard of the book and requested it from the library and had it in my stack of TBR books in the cradle next to my bed. (Since I have passed the years of child-bearing and baby-rocking, my handmade wooden cradle now serves as a books-to-be-read repository as it awaits the advent of grandchildren.)

I can see why The Collapse made World‘s shortlist of best books. It is a stunning account of a moment in history, a moment that changed history. And, as the author points out over and over, it could easily have not happened or have happened very differently. Inexorable violence, intimidation, and renewed repression could have been the operative words to describe the events of October and early November 1989 in Berlin and in greater Germany; instead, Ms. Sarotte uses the adjectives “coincidental” and “unexpected” and “improbable” and even, blessedly, “peaceful”.

In her book, Ms. Sarotte tries to explain how these many, many serendipitous events combined to allow or even produce the opening of the Berlin Wall and eventually the reunification of East and West Germany. The “why” is beyond the scope of the narrative and perhaps beyond the understanding of mere authors and readers. Sarotte does reiterate many times that the collapse of the Wall was not inevitable.

“The Wall’s opening was not a gift from political elites, East German or otherwise, and was in no way predetermined. It resulted from a remarkable constellation of actors and contingent events—and not a little courage on the part of some of the individuals directly involved—that came together in a precise but entirely unplanned sequence. And the larger, successful peaceful revolution surrounding the opening was a truly rare event, one to be considered carefully, not discounted. The history of 1989 shows just how many things have to go right for such a revolution to succeed.”

I am left with some questions of my own, questions that will never be answered this side of eternity, but that are nevertheless interesting to me from a Christian perspective:

The dissident movement in East Germany was birthed and nurtured in the churches of Leipzig and Berlin. Many of the dissidents were not believers, but were nevertheless willing and thankful to use the churches and their “peace prayer” meetings as a shelter and a staging area for demonstrations and peaceful protests against the East German government. Could the peaceful success of the revolution and the reordering of Germany’s culture and government be credited in part (or even in whole) to its genesis as a prayer movement? Perhaps God answered those repeated prayers for peace and justice?

What do historians and politicians mean when they talk about being “on the right side of history”? In the book Soviet leader Chernyaev says of Gorbachev: “He sensed the path of history and helped it to follow its natural path.” Impersonal History nevertheless has a will and a flow? How can this be? (It’s the same way that evolutionists talk about Nature doing this or that. How did Nature become a Force with a will and purpose? And do we humans discern that purpose?)

In a bigger way, could all of those fortuitous events of people being in the right place at the right time or absent from the right place at the right time or able to communicate or unable to communicate, all of those things that had to go right, could they have been orchestrated, not by politicians or revolutionaries, but rather by God himself? Maybe the lesson here is that the “remarkable constellation” was not “entirely unplanned”—just unplanned by man? Man proposes; God disposes.

The Collapse is not a book about God, just as the book of Esther in the Bible hardly mentions God—unless you have eyes to see the hand of God in all of history. I think it much more likely and believable that God is working His purposes out in the course of history than that History itself has an undefined will and an inscrutable purpose.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

She Is Mine by Stephanie Fast

“Stephanie Fast is the name she was given in America. She does not know her original name, birth date, or place of birth, other than that she is Korean. Because she is biracial, Stephanie Fast was abandoned, left in a strange place to fend for herself, likely to die of starvation, disease—or worse.

Stephanie has made it her life’s work to try to help rescue every orphan out there—terrified, hungry, hurting, abused. If you believe that how we treat the most vulnerable among us determines our own humanity you will want to read Stephanie’s book—you will want to get to know Stephanie’s story.”

The almost unbelievable and harrowing story of a Korean war orphan, abandoned by her mother and unknown to her American GI father, She is Mine is an amazing testament to the courage and endurance of the author, but even more to the grace of God in her life. Her website says “Stephanie’s story will leave you moved—and changed.” It left me moved, yes, and puzzled. I was puzzled by the mercy of God and by His sovereignty. Why was Stephanie spared the fate of another child she writes about in her memoir, a baby who died abandoned on a trash heap after seven year old Stephanie, or Yoon Myoung as she was known in Korean, had tried to mother her and save her life? Why was Yoon Myoung/Stephanie adopted by an American couple and brought to the U.S. while other Korean orphans languished in orphanages or scavenged on the streets? I don’t know, and author Stephanie Fast provides no answers to those troubling questions. She can only testify to the fact that God saved her, and “in every instance of my life, whether I knew it or not, there was a greater, higher, wiser power propelling willing hearts to rescue me.”

Maybe God is “propelling” us to rescue just one, or to help, and we are not listening?

I recommend the book, but I do warn you that Stephanie’s story is a very difficult one which includes physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, abandonment, and violence. Stephanie eventually is rescued, and her message is that there is hope. However, reading this book can be emotionally draining. Even if you don’t choose to read Stephanie’s story, please take this blog post as a cue to pray for Stephanie Fast and for the millions of orphans and abused children who are struggling for survival and hope even today as you are reading these words.

Stephanie Fast’s website.

Called to Love is a ministry designed to encourage and support adoptive and foster moms by providing an annual retreat.

Chosen International is a faith-based organization whose goal is to encourage teens who have been adopted to embrace God’s plan of adoption for their lives, and grow into spiritually and emotionally healthy adulthood.

Christian Friends of Korea: hope and healing to the people of North Korea in the name of Christ.

New Beginnings International Children’s and Family Services. (adoption agency)

Kazembe Orphanage, an orphanage in northern Zambia run by my friends, the Morrow family.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

I Dared to Call Him Father by Bilquis Sheikh and Richard H. Schneider

I Dared to Call Him Father: The Miraculous Story of a Muslim Woman’s Encounter with God by Bilquis Sheikh and Richard H. Schneider

I read the 25th anniversary edition of this classic testimony of a well-to-do Muslim Pakistani woman, Bilquis Sheikh, who came to faith in Christ at the age of sixty-five through a series of dreams and visions and through comparison of the Koran to the Christian Bible. Bilquis’ study of the Bible was very confusing to her, but her breakthrough came when a Catholic nun suggested that she talk to God “as if He were your father” and ask Him to show her the truth. She did, and she sensed the presence of God as she prayed.

“‘I am confused, Father,’ I said. ‘I have to get one thing straight right away.’ I reached over to the bedside table where I kept the Bible and the Quran side by side. I picked up both books and lifted them, one in each hand.’Which, Father?’ I said. ‘Which one is Your book?’

Then a remarkable thing happened. Nothing like it had ever occurred in my life in quite this way. For I heard a voice inside my being, a voice that spoke to me as clearly as if I were repeating words in my inner mind. They were fresh, full of kindness, yet at the same time full of authority.

In which book do you meet Me as your Father?

I found myself answering: ‘In the Bible.” That’s all it took. Now there was no question in my mind which one was His book.”

Bilquis went on to leave Pakistan and travel around the world, telling people of how God had spoken directly to her to lead her to Christ. It is an inspiring story and would pair well with Nabeel Qureshi’s Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus which tells about a more intellectual route to faith in Christ for a Muslim seeker. The two converts have in common, besides their Muslim background, their great devotion to family and the deep pain of estrangement from family that their conversion cost them. However, both Mr. Qureshi and Bilquis Sheikh write that Jesus is worth the cost, that following Him and living in His presence is the ultimate treasure.

Diamond Boy by Michael Williams

When fifteen year old Patson Moyo and his family head for the diamond fields of Marange in eastern Zimbabwe, Patson is sure that his family’s fortunes are about to change for the better. Even though Patson’s father plans to teach school in diamond country as he always has, Patson knows that there are diamonds for everyone in Marange. As soon as Patson finds his girazi, that special, costly diamond that everyone is looking for, he and his family will be set for life.

If you just read the article on Wikipedia about the Marange diamond fields, you will know that Patson’s story probably won’t have a happy ending. In fact, although the events in the course of Patson’s adventure are harrowing, violent, and frightening, the story does contain more hope than perhaps the facts warrant.

From Wikipedia and linked sources:
“The government launched police crackdowns against illegal miners and smugglers several times since December 2006. Up to 150 of the estimated 30,000 illegal miners were shot from helicopter gunships.”
(2009) “The Zanu-PF government has mulled plans to forcibly move nearly 5 000 families from Chiadzwa area to facilitate the plundering of diamonds. The families are to be dumped at an Arda farm in Odzi as the President Robert Mugabe-led government intensify looting of the precious minerals.”
“The BBC, the British state broadcaster, claims Zimbabwe’s security forces have a torture camp in the Marange diamond fields; methods include severe beatings, sexual assault and dog mauling according to alleged victims.”
“A 2012 study . . . found that operations at the diamond fields are releasing dangerous chemicals into the Save River.”
“Human Rights Watch says while it has seen an improvement in Marange, it also believes questions remain over who is involved in running these mining companies.” CNN, 2012.

Author Michael Williams, a South African writer and Managing Director of Cape Town Opera, has already written one book set in Zimbabwe, Now Is the Time for Running. Diamond Boy is a sort of companion novel to that earlier book, and some of the characters in Now Is the Time for Running show up in minor roles in Diamond Boy. As I intimated, Diamond Boy is a fascinating but shocking look at life in Zimbabwe, particularly the appalling effect of the possibility of sudden riches in a country filled with poverty and not much economic opportunity.

The ending to the story is unrealistic, but maybe necessary to make up for the unrelenting gloom, greed, and cruelty of the preceding pages. This book is not for younger teens, nor will it be for all readers, even if they have the maturity to handle the subject matter. No, the author doesn’t use graphic language or lurid description, but the events themselves are disturbing enough. Sensitive readers will be haunted, as I am, by the thought that the greed and brutality of man is still making life a living h— for many children and young adults around the world, even if, possibly, improvements have been made in operations at Marange.

Yes, I recommend this book for those who are interested in knowing about one of the horror stories of the twenty-first century, but I suggest you enter with prayer and exit with renewed compassion and more prayer.

Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins

Set on an island in the Sunderbans (islands) of West Bengal, Tiger Boy is a story about a disobedient and somewhat lazy boy who nevertheless does the right thing and inspires his father to choose right and justice over the desire to see his family prosper.

I had some hesitations about the plot of the story, showing Neel and his sister deliberately disobeying their parents in order to save a lost tiger cub from poachers, but by the end I was pleased with the way the actions of the characters came together. Everyone grew and learned, except maybe the money-grubbing criminal, Gupta.

One throwaway line in the story has Neel’s headmaster commenting that “It’s so blazing hot for January. I’ll sweat to death, I’m sure. Our climate is changing due to the rest of the world, and we’re the ones who suffer.” I can’t find any hard data, in an admittedly cursory search of the internet, that indicates that the temperatures in Bengal and Bangladesh are getting warmer, and the idea that hot weather is caused by “climate change” produced in Western nations is hotly disputed. However, a Headmaster in the Sunderban islands might very well believe that his perspiration can be blamed on climate change.

Other than that little glitch, I thought the story was a delight. Neel and his sister work together to thwart the evil Gupta, who wants to capture the tiger cub, escaped from a wildlife reserve, and sell him on the black market. Neel, at the beginning of the story, is a boy who would rather play than learn math and who doesn’t understand the great contribution he could make to his family’s economic well-being if he were to work hard to earn a scholarship to a good school. By the end of the story, Neel begins to comprehend that his father’s ambitions for him are good, and Neel’s father also learns that even the scholarship and a good education for his son are not worth the price of losing one’s integrity.

The setting is described so beautifully in this book that I wanted to hop on an airplane and go see the Sunderbans. “Home for him (Neel) was the hiss of his father’s boat as it slipped through the deltas, golpata branches swaying in the monsoon rains, and the evening smell of jasmine flowers near his house mingling with green chilies and fresh ilish fish simmering in mustard-seed oil. Need had climbed all the tall palm trees, waded in the creeks, and foraged for wild guavas in every corner of the mangrove forest.”

In her acknowledgements, Mitali Perkins writes that “many of my writing themes emerge from reflection on the parables of Jesus. This book is based on the story about the talents given to three stewards (Matthew 25:14-30).” Neel certainly does learn to use the gifts that he has been given instead of burying them in a cycle of fear and insecurity. And his father, although tempted to give in to the need to take any opportunity to pull his family out of poverty, steps up to take responsibility for his own gifts and duties as a citizen of the larger community.

Mikis and the Donkey by Bibi Dumon Tak

This 89-page little gem of a story takes place in Corfu, a Greek island in the Mediterranean, and it’s about a boy and his donkey. Well, it’s really his grandfather’s donkey. The boy Mikis, however, is the one who names the donkey Tsaki and the one who cares for Tsaki when he is hurt and the one who insists on building Tsaki a new stable and the one who finds Tsaki a lady-friend.

This one reminded me of Red Sails to Capri by Ann Weil, a 1953 Newbery honor book: Mediterranean island, simple family life and family dynamics, children exploring the island and learning about their heritage and their place in their culture. Mikis and the Donkey also won an award from the ALSC, the Batchelder Award for children’s books originally published in another language and translated into English.

Anyway, it’s a lovely book, and I wish I had a copy for my library. It’s definitely going on my wishlist.