The Day of the Pelican by Katherine Paterson (J Historical Fiction)

The Day of the Pelican

Katherine Paterson (J Historical Fiction)

Terrible things should never happen in springtime, and it was almost spring.

Meli Lleshi and her family lived a comfortable life in Dukagjin. Her father came from a farm village so although her classmates didn’t look down on her like the Gypsies or hated her like the Serbs, she was still treated differently. She didn’t understand why the Serbs hated the Albanians so much…although most Albanians hated the Serbs equally. Baba, Meli’s father, had always taught his family to respect and not to hate, and so Meli did as she was told until the day her brother, Mehmet, disappeared. Now, with her country no longer safe, Meli will need to hold on tight to her family as they fight to survive and look for a way to escape their beloved Kosovo.

The Day of the Pelican is based on an actual Kosovar refugee family who was sponsored by Katherine Paterson’s own church in 1999. This is a harrowing, gritty, and brutal account of the war in Kosovo, which was the direct result of Slobodan Milošević’s decade-long oppression of the ethnic Albanian people. The book is recommended for ages 12 and above and its subject matter of ethnic cleansing and racial prejudice is worthy of in-depth discussions, making it an ideal book for a middle or high school social studies class. As far as it being an independent read, I—as an adult—found it to be a bit dry and often struggled to maintain interest in the story, so a younger reader with far less tenacity may give up on this book entirely. I think the primary reason for my detachment is that it’s written in the third person. Had Paterson chosen to use alternating, first-person points of view between Meli and Mehmet, I would have felt Meli’s fear for her brother, as well as better understand the reason behind Mehmet’s slow and painful separation from his father and family. As it is, the story lies just above the surface and never fully allows the reader to connect with this amazing family.

I appreciate any book that teaches history to young readers and especially love a book that shows the strength of the human spirit and the power of hope. The Day of the Pelican accomplishes both, while being deeply rooted in faith, courage, and family.

Throughout the book, Baba was always counting heads to make sure everyone in his family was accounted for. He kept repeating to Meli the importance of staying together: We must hold onto each other. Even in the chaos of fleeing their burning homeland, Meli kept reminding herself that they were all together and that was the important thing. Throughout his family’s struggles, Baba knew that villages may crumble, governments may fall, and possessions may be lost forever, but if you have family, you have everything you’ll ever need: Inshallah. God willing.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to: www.amazon.com

A Moment Comes by Jennifer Bradbury (YA Historical Fiction)

A Moment Comes

A Moment Comes

Jennifer Bradbury (Young Adult Historical Fiction)

“Safe.  I think about the word as we continue walking.  What does safe mean anymore?  I wonder if I’ll ever feel safe again.  I wandered these markets and streets freely just a few years ago.  And then I grew up.”

Tariq is Muslim born and raised in India.  He is eighteen and aspires to study at Oxford.  It is what Daadaa—his grandfather—dreamed for him and he will do anything to make it a reality.  Anupreet is Sikh and nearly sixteen years old.  She’s beautiful despite the scar that runs from her eye to her cheek.  It’s healing, but will always be there, just like the memory of that horrible day when she acquired it.  Margaret is sixteen and from London.  Her father was sent to Jalandhar to work for the boundary award.  His job is to help break India into pieces so that Muslims can have their own separate state.  She knows why her mother made her come here…to restore her virtue, make her “respectable” again.  Although she’s not sure how this hot, sticky, and loud place will be able to accomplish that.  It’s June 1947 and the worlds of these three teenagers are about to come together and their journey will take them to what history would later refer to as the Partition of India of 1947.

Books, like Bradbury’s, that are based on actual world history play such an important part in the lives of our younger population.  Historical Fiction is not only a way to educate, but to offer an all-important perspective.  In A Moment Comes, we are given three very different yet relatable young adults: each offering his or her own point of view about what is happening to them, their family, and the world around them.  Bradbury largely avoids stereotypes and instead offers up an honest landscape about a country being torn apart from the inside.

The Partition of India of 1947 began after the Second World War.  Lacking the sufficient resources to control its greatest asset, Britain exited India after three hundred years of British rule and partitioned the country into two independent nation states: India (with its Hindu majority) and Pakistan (with their Muslim majority).  It marked one of the greatest migrations in human history and resulted in more than fifteen million people losing their homes and between one to two million people losing their lives.  Bradbury is exceptionally careful not to choose sides and paint one party as “good” or another as “bad”.  Instead, she lays out three lives told through three alternating points of view and allows the reader to form his or her own judgments and opinions.  The story is fast-paced, harrowing, poignant, and bitter.  But in the end, Bradbury offers up some much-needed hope.  It’s faint and so very uncertain, but she places it there nonetheless so that we—along with Tariq, Anupreet, and Margaret—can grab it and hold onto it as tight as we can.

A Moment Comes reminds us that history is more than just words on a page.  Rather, it’s people who breathe, dream, hope, bleed, and die.  People who have risen above their own limitations in order to do something remarkable or historic or even heroic.  And just like history is more than just printed words, maps are more than just lines.  They are traditions and cultures and religions.  Bradbury summed this up perfectly through Margaret when she said, “Lines are funny things. They make us feel safe—at least for a while—knowing where we end and something or someone else begins.  But they can also make us want, can make us bitter, wanting what lies on the other side of the line.  But whether it’s a border on a map or a boundary between two people, the lines are still only lines.  Still something someone made up, decided on.  They’re not even real, but so long as everyone agrees to play along, they work fine.  But how can lines of a map tell a piece of land what to be any more than lines between one person and another can pretend to be what makes them different?”  In the end, Tariq, Anupreet, and Margaret were all able to let go of their own prejudices and realize that they themselves aren’t so very different from one another…regardless of what the lines might say.

Rating: 5/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com

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