Wednesday, February 15, 2017
The what? What a strange name for a book, I thought.
After I read a couple of other books from Nancy Farmer (and reviewed them on this blog) , The Ear, the Eye and the Arm was also recommended to me. This one was also deemed good enough for a Newbery medal, and so it was good enough for me.
When I know I'm going to read a book, I try not to know too much about what happens in it. I avoid the details in blurbs and reviews that give away the surprises. But I also like to be just a little prepared, so I can have more appreciation of the tale from the beginning. So I read the author's forward, which bears quoting:
I used to work for a company in Zimbabwe called College Press. My job was to create stories for African school children, so I went to the secondhand stores to find out what they liked. There were no free libraries in Zimbabwe then, and new books were far too expensive for my students. I discovered that they loved science fiction. Several would chip in to buy a new novel for ten cents. They would read it and read it and read it until it fell apart. I went straight home and wrote The Ear, the Eye and the Arm.
So yes, it is science fiction. But it is grounded and accessible to a concrete mind, concerned with all the things that children of this age are concerned about.
It is 200 years in the future, and although Africa is recognizable, things have changed technologically and to a lesser degree, politically. Tendai, Rita, and Kuda, the children of Zimbabwe's wealthy and powerful chief of security are itching to fulfill their scout badges. But even though all have been earned in the safe enclosure of the family compound, the explorer badge required some exploring. 13 year old Tendai wants to be allowed out into the city, for the first time in his life, to quickly and safely navigate a distance, and then return home later that day. With just a little trickery, they are out, and on an adventure.
When their father finds out, he is devastated, and for the first time realizes how unprepared he has made them to be out in the real world. He has made them weak, by keeping them isolated and totally safe, all while being somewhat disappointed in them because they were not as strong as he wanted them to be. He knows that his enemies will be after them, for ransom and, as it turns out, even more nefarious purposes.
But the children are actually pretty resourceful, and even when they end up in the clutches of people who don't wish them well, they are getting savvy, and learning the strengths of each other, and Tendai begins growing in the spirits of Africa.
After it is obvious their father will be unable to find them, their mother hires three detectives from an agency. They are Ear, a man with freakishly large ears who can hear whispers from another room, Eye, a huge-eyeballed man who can see details all others miss, and Arm, a strange spider-like man who picks up others' emotions. They pick up the trail, always just late enough to miss the children, but as they work, they are a part of the larger story that comes to a crashing conclusion with all the characters and spirits warring against each other at the top of a mile-high building.
I haven't read many African- based tales, but I do remember the feel and rhythm of Anansi the Spider books that I used to read to my children when they were small. This has a similar feel. Farmer's writing is fun and refreshing, and the concrete details that pop up make the story come alive.
I think the most popular youth books are coming-of-age stories, like this one, and the best ones handle complicated subjects in an interesting, skillful and realistic way. I liked how Tendai comes to appreciate the stubbornness and uncooperative personality of his sister, Rita, because that is how she survived their ordeal--she was strong. I appreciated the deep bond between the children. I liked the subtle way Farmer shows that Tendai's parents understand that he has now become a man.
I bought this book from Amazon.