Monday, November 08, 2010

A country far away

A country far away
by Nigel Gray
Illustrated by Philippe Dupasquier
Published by Orchard Books

[Image courtesy :]

A country far away is about two stories that happen in parallel. Or one could argue that it is a single story really. How is that, you may ask? Let me tell you...

On the title page of the book, there is a picture of two boys, sitting at a table, on opposite sides, with a globe in between them. One of them is pointing to Africa , his origins, and the other has his finger somewhere on North America, showing where he is from. And this is perhaps one of the best introductions to the book. For reasons of simplicity, let's call them Boy 1 and Boy 2. :)

On every page that follows, both their lives unfold simultaneously, simple sentences used to describe an aspect of their lives.

"Today was an ordinary day. I stayed home."

The top band of the book shows Boy 1, herding the sheep in his village in rural Africa. Right below, Boy 2 helps his Dad wash the car.

Flip some pages, and...."Today was the last day of school before vacation. We went home early."

Boy 1's school is the outdoors. The kids sit on the ground. When school is done, he rides back home in a donkey. His excitement at the last day of school is obvious.

Below, Boy 2 is in music class at school. Later, we see him working on the computer. Then he catches the bus back home. He is excited too.

And so on it goes. Visually, you see a lot of differences in their lives, the differences being as topical as rural v/s urban living. And it could be cultural too...arising from the uniqueness of the regions they belong to. Or it could be, to some extent, economic, judging by the rustic setting of Boy 1's life, in contrast to the creature comforts that surround Boy 2.

But more than all these seeming differences, what you really see is how similar their lives are. How they both go to school and play with their friends, and help out at home, or go out to the market, celebrate the birth of a new sibling, and welcome cousins from out of town. In their own ways, each one enjoys a full life, unique to the landscape of their birth.

There is actually no need for words in this book. The pictures are so visually engaging and detailed, that you clue in to every page, just from that heart to heart connection. We particularly loved the page, where there is a full family portrait taken on both sides. All the family is there...grandparents, cousins, new baby sister, parents, uncles and aunts...everybody. With Boy 1 and Boy 2, standing right in the center.

It is interesting to note how 7 year old Winkie related to this book. While his lifestyle corresponded, in pretty much exact detail to that of Boy 2, yet he also identified with Boy 1, saying that they were both brown skinned. And I think this is where we can lay a finger on the true pulse of the book. That black, white, blue or brown...our lives are the same. What makes us happy is the same. What moves us is the same. What inspires us, is the same. What relaxes us, is the same.

In the end, Boy 1 and Boy 2 get to meet. How? Well, its the tale for another story! :)


Anusha said...

very very interesting! reminds me a lot of one of the Crocus books I reviewed. I'd have to get this book just to find out how the two meet!

sathish said...


very interesting. I imagined a lot after this book. :)

The two boys reading the same page, same line and same book at the same time magically exchange their places! Stuff for indian movies, probably :)

Meera Sriram said...

Tempted to spin my own story as well - its all a flashback..with the 2 boys being friends now and their growing up years were actually what was portrayed all along??:) You must be having a good laugh, uh?!

Feels like crocus again:) Great pick..thanks T!

sandhya said...

Great pick, Tharini. Yes, we are so much the same under our skins, aren't we?

artnavy said...

This is so much like Masai and I which we read post K's mom's review- with boys instead.

illustrations look inviting

Tharini said...

KM : Yes, you shud. :)

Sathish : You're closer than you think. Just not the last part of your idea tho. ;)

Meera : I think you're ready with a spin off for your next book! :) That's a rocking idea actually.

Sandhya : yes we are!

Art : I must read Masai & I!

ranjani.sathish said...

What a beautiful pick..Love the idea of the story. I so want to get this book for Sooraj !

utbtkids said...

T, my fav theme.
"We are all different and same"

It is such a complicated thing to nail down.

Will hunt for this book.

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