Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Diddakoi

The Diddakoi
Written by Rumer Godden
Cover illustration by Christian Birmingham
Published by Macmillan Children's Books
Ages 8-12 yrs

A complex, well written book that draws one into it.

A spirited, half-gypsy, half-Irish girl. An orphan. A misfit at school, targeted with some serious bullying for being different. The fact that 'normal, nice' children can, in fact, be very cruel, especially if they reflect the prejudices of their elders. The fact that prejudices can lead to fear of a situation/ person, and that they can become difficult to overcome.

An ordinary 'Miss Marple-ish' British village in the 1960s where everyone knows everybody. A legal care system where the best interests of a child is decided by the letter of the law, and not by what the child would want, or what might be truly best for the child. We see well-meaning adults going wrong. Others unaware of their own ability to give and heal.

'It's good of you, Edna,' Miss Brooke repeated, but it might spoil your holiday. Besides, I don't think Kizzy would go.'
'Heavens, you don't have to ask her.'
'I think I do. People should always be asked before being disposed of.'
'A child?'
'Children are people, Edna,' said Miss Brooke as she had said it to Mrs Blount.
'Well, please yourself,' said Mrs Cuthbert. 'But I tell you, Olivia, that child's too much on your mind.'
'Isn't that what she came for?'
'For what?'
'To be on my mind.'

An ordinary children's story of extraordinary meanings, the book takes one on a roller coaster ride of emotions, which nevertheless unfold very gently at times and with the dramatic quality of a tempest at others. That brings home to us the fact that the human spirit is more resilient than one can imagine, and that we all that the light with the dark in all of us. That patience, love and care can wrought wonders.

Born in 1907, Rumer Godden herself was very difficult, different in many ways as a child, and in this book she writes from  her own memories of it. Kizzy Lovell, our central girl character, the 'diddakoi'=half-gypsy, who is picked on by the other children for being different, and who is in the centre of a controversy over who should foster her, and how, is a throwback to that childhood. In some ways Kizzy reminded me of some of Enid Blyton's similar characters- Carlotta from the St. Clare series, and Lotta from her Circus books.

This is her best known book for children, which got the Whitbread Award in 1972. It has been called "the sort of book children had to fight for to get it from adults". The book should be read in the context of the period in which it is set, as there is much that can be considered 'politically incorrect'. And inspite of the many negatives, the many questions it raises, especially in young minds, it is an incredibly uplifting book, with a happy ending. A loved it!

Image courtesy flipkart. Crossposted here. 


Choxbox said...

One of our favourite books! And the author of course!

Awesome review, as usual.

sandhya said...

Will pass it on, Chox. FB will love it.

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