Monday, 18 February 2008

Anila's Journey by Mary Finn

Walker Books

ANILA is half-Indian, half-Irish, and her Irish father works for the East India Company in 19th-century Calcutta.

But her father has gone away, and her pining mother died, and now Anila's alone, trying to make her way with just a talent for drawing.

My old friend Mary Finn is well known for her Out and About in Dublin, a great book for entertaining kids in the city. Now she's turned to fiction, with this gentle, rather old-fashioned story.

"You have not just your natural talent to support your claim but there is undoubtedly a certain liberty in your situation that I believe can aid you in this matter just as well as it might undermine you in other ways," says Anila's mentor, Miss Hickey, encouraging the little girl to apply for a job drawing birds for an expedition in Bengal.

Anila refuses to believe that her father has deserted her, and so the expedition is also a chance to search for him.

The leisurely writing is beautiful, and the India of the British Empire is brought powerfully to life, in a leisurely tale with none of the frantically plot-driven atmosphere of most children's books.

This is a book to savour and read slowly and deliciously.

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