I am not a storyteller, so I don’t know how to begin. When I think of Blind Harim the Storyteller, my courage wavers. Harim’s voice enters your blood like a drug, bringing visions and strange dreams. He attracts crowds of people who bring mats and sit around him in rows, their faces upraised like flowers. The men roll cigarettes of dark tobacco and smoke them as they gaze at the ground, their harsh faces suddenly gentle, and the women bring bags of sugared almonds and pop them into the mouths of small children, to keep them quiet. …
I am not a story teller like Harim, but my story burns inside me, wanting to be told, and I have decided to write it down. I am sitting in my kitchen at my table. It is evening, and the moths are fluttering around the room, bumping into my lamp. Mely is fast asleep on the other chair. I like the noise th pen makes as it scratches across the paper. It is very peaceful. It feels like a proper time to begin.
This is the story of the River and the Book, but it is my story too.
Simbala is born into a small village by a river. The village relies on the river for transport and for fish and even for the soils brought by floods. But the river is shrinking and it no longer provides as it once did. Simbala’s family are the keepers of the Book. Her ancestors have looked to the Book to provide answers to whatever questions are asked. And the Book answers. Now it is Simbala’s turn to learn to read the Book. It is she who is there when the stranger comes.
The River and the Book is a lyrical tale of life, and of change. Although Simbala can read the answers in the Book, she doesn’t always understand the answers it offers. Her village must change now that the river is poisoned, and she too must change if she is to understand what is meant to be. At once philosophical and literal, Simbala’s story offers cultural and environmental truths that we ignore at our peril. This is a short novel, rich in imagery and language. Recommended for mature readers.
The River and the Book, Alison Croggon
Walker Books Australia 2015 ISBN: 9781925081725
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller