Friday, January 11, 2008

A four star review from CM Magazine

CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 10 . . . . January 11, 2008

The Third Eye.
Mahtab Narsimhan.Toronto, ON: Dundurn Press, 2007.240 pp., pbk., $12.99.ISBN 978-1-55002-750-1.
Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
**** /4

Oh no, not now. Not when we are so exposed, thought Tara in despair. She would have to get Suraj comfortable and bring his fever down. She headed for the nearest tree and sat Suraj down. She dug into her bundle and groped for matches. She knew the fire would attract animals, but she had to boil herbs for medicine to bring down Suraj's fever. Tara said a fervent prayer as she undid the bundle of dry twigs they had gathered earlier that morning and struck the match to give her some light. A distance away from the tree she put down a few twigs and threw the lit match on them. They caught fire immediately and within a few minutes she had a strong fire going.
"Suraj," she whispered. "Suraj, talk to me."He mumbled incoherently under his breath. Tara had him down on his warm bedding and covered him with a blanket. She propped his head up and poured some water into his mouth. He was unable to swallow and the water trickled out the side. With growing apprehension, Tara realized that he was very sick.
"Please Lord Ganesh, make him well again. I need him. I can't do this along. I just can't!"

Tara and her brother Suraj have led a terrible life since their mother and grandfather left their village a year ago. Their stepmother is cruel to them, their father ignores their plight, and the entire village seems upset and uneasy. The arrival of Zarku, a new healer, should alleviate Tara's worries and fears, but instead she senses only evil coming from him. In a final effort to save herself and Suraj, Tara decides they must escape the village and confront the terrors of the surrounding woods in order to find her mother and grandfather and thereby restore healing and happiness in both her family and in Morni, their village.
Narsimhan is a native of Mumbai and draws upon Indian mythology in this novel which combines elements of fairy tale, myth and action/adventure. The brave children, evil stepmother and monsters in the woods are elements of many well-known fairy tales. But Narsimhan's story takes place in India, and the Hindu gods come alive for Tara and play a major role in the story. Even the title is a reference to the Hindu god Shiva as well as being a description of Zarku, the embodiment of evil in the book. This is also a mythic tale in that the forces of good are pitted head to head against the forces of evil, and Tara, en route to her heroic goal of saving her family and her village, must complete a variety of difficult and dangerous tasks worthy of Hercules, himself.
On another level, this is a classic coming-of-age story. Tara is forced to care for her younger brother when her mother is no longer with them, and then she learns courage, wisdom, and many other life lessons as she fulfills her quest. As her mother remarks at the end of the novel, "Haven't you done enough, Tara? You have changed so much from the time I left you. I am very happy and extremely proud."
These main themes and mythological influences are beautifully woven into a story of action, adventure, and tension as readers follow Tara on her quest. Narsimhan's vivid descriptions place readers in India, complete with the sights, smells and sounds of that world. Readers feel Tara's anxiety and guilt throughout the novel and share her excitement and happiness as the story ends. Classroom teachers or teacher-librarians will find this novel could work well in a unit of study on mythology and heroes. As well, The Third Eye is an excellent introduction to elements of the Hindu religion and the culture of India and so would fit into work on world literature.
The Third Eye is certainly a 'page-turner' which will appeal to the young adult audience, but with a definite difference, and its publication seems to suggest a new direction for Canadian juvenile fiction. One can only hope Narsimhan's debut novel is the first of many to come!
Highly Recommended.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and teacher of high school English and French, now lives in Ottawa, ON, where she has turned her love of travel into a new career as a travel consultant.

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