Anila's Journey by Mary Finn
|Anila's Journey by Mary Finn|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: A very literary piece of historical fiction which will entrance sophisticated readers of all ages. Beautifully written and for once we are treated to a strong female character who isn't the least bit anachronistic.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: January 2008|
|Publisher: Walker Books Ltd|
Anila Tandy is the Bird Girl of Calcutta. She is of mixed heritage - her mother was Indian and her - disappeared - father is Irish. Anila has inherited her mother's independent spirit and her father's artistic talent. After her mother dies, Anila is left to fend for herself - a precarious situation for a woman at the end of the eighteenth century, let alone a woman in India, and let alone a woman of mixed race, unwelcome in many social circles. Anila, however, is undaunted. Aided by her friend Miss Hickey, she applies for the job of draughtswoman on a botanical expedition along the Ganges led by the kindly Mr Walker. It's unorthodox to say the least, but Mr Walker can see that Anila's talent for drawing flora and fauna is unsurpassed.
The expedition to find undiscovered bird species, however, is not the only journey Anila is hoping to make. She is looking for her father, whom she refuses to believe is dead...
This is a first novel and it's wonderfully mature. Anila's journey along the Ganges with Mr Walker is told turn and turn about with her backstory. One strand leads her closer to a reunion with her father, the other to the point at which they became separated. Although this takes away a little of the narrative's tension, it's a very elegant way to use flashbacks. Anila's Journey doesn't stand or fall by its tension in any case. Its fairly languid pace - the whole book is devoted to a few short weeks - is actually a great strength. It gives the reader time to pause and appreciate. The language is precise and evocative, the philosophy deep but kind. A rushed read would deprive the reader of these things.
Anila is a wonderfully strong character, but because the historical detail is so full and accurate, she isn't in the least anachronistic. There are few historical novels for children - indeed, for adults - in which the characters do not display modern sensibilities and when you find one, you should treasure it. Anila's struggles with being not only a woman but an Anglo-Indian woman, in the colonial eighteenth century are all-pervading, and she faces them with fortitude, if not equanimity. You find yourself genuinely wanting to meet her. The supporting characters are a little less realised, but dovetail into the narrative with smooth effortlessness.
This is a literary book. It's pitched at teens, but it really is classy enough to make the age of the reader rather irrelevant. A sophisticated reader at late primary school would enjoy it, but so would any adult fond of strong women and historical fiction. Anila's Journey comes highly recommended by The Bookbag.
My thanks to the nice people at Walker for sending the book.
Nicola Morgan's wonderful The Highwayman's Footsteps is set in Britain in the eighteenth century, while Kevin Crossley Holland's Gatty's Tale introduces us to another unforgettable historical female character.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Anila's Journey by Mary Finn at Amazon.com.
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