Illustrator: Roberto Innocenti
Text by Ian McEwan
Story by Christophe Gallaz
I had difficulty making up my mind regarding this book. Is it a book on futility of war, similar to the book Why? or is it about innocence and bewilderment of a kid who cannot understand the prevailing wisdom that is antithesis of righteousness.
But do we really need to make up our mind regarding what a book wants to convey? Why not let it pass over you and let it regurgitate and make it work its magic slowly.
The book is about a kid named Rose Blanche who watches the beginnings of a war with excitement with no understanding of what it means; only to find out the bitter truth at the end of the book. The war is told from the point of view of the kid in Germany. The imagery captures the mood of the time and place with great clarity. As the war progresses, the scenery switches from enthusiasm to resignation to defeat to another cycle of bloom again. But, the kid does not stay long to see the bloom.
Ian McEwan is not a author we associate with Children's book - more famous for his Booker shortlists. His words are minimal and effective. Read a sampling from the first page - "Rose Blanche was shivering with excitement. But her mother said it was cold. Winter was coming". When I read this sentence the first time I wondered about the extra emphasis on cold and winter. As I read along, It did not take long to realise that mother was not talking about the season. The winter was definitely coming!
Oddly, Roberto Innocenti, the illustrator's name is written before the much famous Ian McEwan (at least for the English audience). It goes to show the importance of the illustrations in this book. Roberto Innocenti's illustrations are magical. The war is distant and the only pictures of war that we see are how Rose views them. The illustration (the centre spread) where Rose lays her eyes on a group of kids in striped pajamas interred behind barbed wires with Star of David prominently displayed is poignant. There is no life in the eyes of kids behind the barbed wires and their eyes are marked with just simple dark spots.
There is another illustration that shows Rose crossing over a bricked bridge with reflections in the water below. It sounds straightforward so far, but something is unsettling about the whole scenery. It becomes more clear when we watch more closely the reflection in the water - presence of barbed wires in the water. Where did this reflection come from? Is it something hanging around the village that no one has cared to notice? Does it illustrate the fate of the girl or does it illustrate the dangers that she is going to face?
The end is bitter. There is also a optimistic note that spring was on its way back. I wish they did not add that page about the invasion of the spring. They should have left it as is - to its bitter and haunting end.
A story of courage, compassion among grotesqueness of war and hatred needs to be shared.