Book review: The Truth About Peacock Blue
Hawke, Rosanne, 2015, The Truth About Peacock Blue, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest.
This latest novel for young people written by South Australian author Rosanne Hawke is compelling reading. It is one of those stories you can’t put down, but you know that to go on reading will be confronting, challenging, and even infuriating. I say ‘infuriating’ because many readers will want to jump into the story personally and put right some terrible injustices. The caption under the title on the cover encapsulates the story so well: A powerful story about one girl’s fight for justice in Pakistan.
This story deals with real issues in the real world in the lives of real people today. While it is fiction Hawke has been inspired by the true story of Pakistani woman Asia Bibi who has been accused of blasphemy. She has been in prison for five years and remains there as I write this. I read this novel shortly after finishing the autobiography of I Am Malala – you can read my review here. That was confronting enough, but on the very next morning after reading Hawke’s novel our guest speaker at our church was Bishop Patrick Sookhdeo, founder of the Barnabas Fund. He spoke graphically of the growing crisis in Syria and surrounding countries, as well as issues in Pakistan and elsewhere.
The brother of the protagonist Aster dies due to an illness. She is then thrust into the limelight as the hope of the family. She is enrolled in the high school where her brother was to attend. She is at first excited and keenly looking forward to the opportunity of an education, something denied many girls in Pakistan.
Life quickly turns sour for Aster in her new school. Being a Christian in a predominantly Muslim community has many challenges for her. When one of her teachers takes a strong dislike to her, life becomes very challenging and potentially dangerous. In the midst of the anxiety of exams, Aster is suddenly arrested in front of her fellow students because of something she wrote in her paper. She is accused of blasphemy, a serious crime which leads to the death penalty in Pakistan.
The remainder of the story documents the struggle Aster has to come to terms with life in prison. The conditions are confronting to readers like myself: atrocious, inhumane and downright filthy, not to mention dangerous. Her trial is rescheduled a number of times and her challenges mount daily. Throughout all of this she never loses her faith which shines through the darkness and evil all around. I had to personally face the question: ‘How would I react and cope if faced with similar persecution?’ In my sheltered life here in Australia I have never been confronted by such issues.
Aster’s Australian cousin Maryam takes up the challenge of helping her. She starts an online campaign in the form of a blog and a worldwide petition on behalf of Aster. Hawke has cleverly used fictional quotes from the blog to debate some of the issues surrounding this terrible law of blasphemy. Similar real-life, heart-wrenching campaigns are becoming far too common place today.
Once again Rosanne Hawke has written an emotive, fast moving and insightful novel. The reader gets an in-depth view of life in a repressed country with all the cultural, social and religious nuances at play in the lives of her characters. By the end of the book the reader has a strong sense of the utter hopelessness of her fellow prisoners but also of Aster’s hope under-girded by her strong Christian faith.
- I am Malala
- Kerenza – my review of Rosanne Hawke’s novel (this article has several other links to reviews of her works)
- Shahana – my review of another of Hawke’s novels