Lost Riders by Elizabeth Laird
|Lost Riders by Elizabeth Laird|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: Wonderfully researched and heartbreakingly vivid, Elizabeth Laird tells the story of the child-slave camel jockeys of the Middle East with her trademark robust sympathy. Highly recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: June 2008|
When Rashid was eight, he was sold. He lost everything. He lost his home. He lost his brother. He lost his freedom. He lost his name. Rashid was one of the lucky ones.
Camel racing is one of the most popular sports in the United Arab Emirates. The fastest camels run best with little jockeys - and little doesn't mean short men like jockeys in the western world. It means little children, some under five years old. Over three thousand children were taken from Pakistan by traffickers and sold into slavery as camel jockeys, some under the most appalling conditions. Half-starved to keep their weight down, bullied and abused, children worked all hours of the day and night, all in return for a pittance sent home to their naive, but very poor, parents.
Understandably, there was an international outcry. Many of these children were returned home and the UAE developed robot jockeys to take their places. However, many still remain in neighbouring countries or underground operations. To write Camel Riders Elizabeth Laird visited the Gulf and spoke to government officials and camel racers. More importantly, she also went to Pakistan and spoke to some of the children involved. What emerges is a scrupulously researched composite story made all the more horrifying by its anecdotal truth.
Rashid and his little brother Shari are taken to Dubai by their uncle, who genuinely believes there's a future for them there, one in which they will not only flourish, but also be able to send home much-needed money to their widowed mother and baby sister. But all is not as it seems. Rashid is split up from his little brother. He's given a new name and taken out to a training camp in the desert. He is fed barely at all, because camel jockeys need to be light. He works all day and rides camels at night. And the camels are vicious creatures. Boys are regularly injured by kicks, and some have even died. Any laziness or ineptitude earns a beating from the trainer.
And yet, when he finally gets to race, Rashid discovers the exhilaration of victory, and it's hard to stay clear of the rivalry between boys who should really be sticking together. But all the time, in the background, Rashid is worrying about Shari, and desperate to find a way home.
Written simply, Camel Riders allows the horrifying story to speak for itself. Laird writes with her trademark frankness, hiding nothing of the awful truth from her young readers. Yet behind the honesty lies a robust sympathy and a moral outrage which backs up all her writing and doesn't need saccharine words or florid language to make its points. Because of this, it's suitable for a wide range of readers - anyone from nine or ten to fourteen or fifteen with an interest in social issues will find it absorbing and enlightening. This forty-something reader did, too.
My thanks to the nice people at Macmillan for sending the book.
If they like issue-based books and enjoyed Lost Riders, they might also like Burn My Heart by Beverley Naidoo about the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya.
Elizabeth Laird was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.
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