Book review: Malini by Robert Hillman.
Published by Allen & Unwin – Through My Eyes series.
Set in Sri Lanka during the recent civil war, this novel is a powerful portrayal of how a war can seriously impact the daily lives of so many innocent people, and especially children. The action begins from page one when Malini and her younger sister Banni are thrust into the conflict one morning at dawn. The Tamil soldiers come to their village in northern Sri Lanka and force everyone out of their homes at gun point.
Terrified, and not knowing what it is all about, their family is on a forced march towards the coast where they will be used as human shields against the army. Their quick thinking father helps them to escape into the nearby forest, after thrusting a mobile phone into Malini’s hand. The two sisters successfully escape detection, but that is just the beginning of their troubles. Malini is unwillingly forced into the role of a parent, and when they “adopt” another group of vagrant children, all orphans, her troubles just multiply. Not only does she need to care for her growing “family”, she has to avoid the numerous patrols, find shelter for them to sleep, and feed them. The task is almost too much.
This story quickly becomes not only a story of survival against terrifying odds, it is a journey across the country in quest of her grandfather’s village where she hopes they will find refuge. Skilfully written, tense and with a great awareness of the culture, geography and people of Sri Lanka, the author has written a masterful novel, both fast moving and adventurous.
This is the sixth title I have read in the series Through My Eyes, a series dealing with the experiences of children in conflict zones. The dedicated website for the series includes teachers’ notes, author interviews and more. See the links below. I have also included links to other reviews I have written of books in this series.
- Through My Eyes series – teacher notes and more on the publishers website
- Review: Through My Eyes: Naveed – set in Afghanistan
- Review: Through My Eyes: Shahana – set in Pakistan
- A troubled people: plus a review of Zafir – set in Syria
“Naveed” by John Heffernan is the second in the “Through my eyes” series of novels set in war zones, told from the perspective of children caught in such conflicts. “Naveed” is set in Afghanistan, a war we have heard so much about, but in reality know so little of the suffering of innocent people caught in the crossfire.
Naveed, the main character, is totally tired of the war tearing his country – and family – apart. His father is dead, yet another victim of the war. Yet it is Naveed, his sister Anoosheh and his mother who are the real victims. His sister lost her legs when a land mine exploded and his mother cares for them as best she can in a small rented room. There is the constant battle for enough money for food and for their greedy landlord.
Naveed works the markets, taking whatever jobs are on offer, in an effort to care for his mother and sister. Too often he is the target of street gangs until he adopts a street dog Nasera. The dog quickly becomes not only a protector from the gangs, but also one displaying extraordinary abilities. Befriended by an Australian soldier, Naveed and Nasera team up to make a difference to the people living around them.
“Naveed” is a fast moving, exciting story giving a close up view of life in modern Afghanistan in the midst of a terrible conflict. The main characters, Naveed and his family, are strongly drawn characters one immediately cares for, and as the plot develops a sense of foreboding looms – with a totally believable outcome. The ending brings a sense of hope for the future of this ravaged country and its people.
“Naveed” is published by Allen & Unwin.
Teachers’ notes and an interview with the author can be found here.