The River and the Book by Alison Croggon
Published by Walker Books
This is a beautifully written, lyrical and thought provoking book about wrestling with change, forgiveness and coming to terms with the past, present and future, within a story of environmental and personal exploitation. From the front cover which reads- “In our village we had two treasures: The River and the Book” readers are set up to feel the loss of both for the villagers and engage with 15 year old narrator, Simbala, in her quest for meaning.
The narrative is non-linear and takes the form of Simbala writing a journal, addressing the reader, which gives the book a personal feel. It is Simbala’s way of dealing with the loss of the mystical book, “which was our history, our Oracle, our soul” of which she was the Keeper. When the book is stolen, Sim journeys along the river from her village home to the city, discovering a friend, Yuri, and finding constant companion, Mely the cat along the way. In the city Sim writes her journal.
The centrality of books and stories is a dominant theme in this book about books: those who deal with words like the poet friend and the storyteller in the marketplace are imbued with wisdom, as is the mystical book itself (which answers every question the Keeper asks of it); the book written about the plight of the village is held to be the key to restoring the river; and Simbala’s recollections make up the book we read and are her key to meaning and understanding.
Set in an undisclosed village and recording a clash of cultures – one innocent and one exploitative (presumably Western) - it combines mystical elements (a talking cat, the Book itself) and a rather rushed romance, and presents complex personal and global ethical dilemmas in a way that readers from upper primary onwards can understand. It encompasses touching personal reflection on the human condition to keep readers engaged with the characters and yet, at 135 pages, it is not too dense.
A beautiful, meandering story endorsed by Amnesty International for its contribution to human rights awareness and values.
CKT Book Reviewer
Authors: Alison Croggon
Illustrator: Katie Harnett
Title: The River and the Book
Publisher: Walker Books
Published: October 2015