The Conch Bearer, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

The Conch BearerLately I’ve been reading a lot of young adult literature that is set in India. If you read my previous post about the novel Sold by Patricia McCormick, you know that it deals with the realities of being sold into sex slavery and quite the emotional roller coaster well worth the time.

The Conch Bearer, by Chitra Banejee Divakaruni, on the other hand, is an adventure story set in Kolkata, India and the Himalayas. Though its tone is certainly not as serious as the one in Sold, this story deals with loss, poverty, friendship, loyalty, compassion and honesty.

Anand is a 12 year old boy whose father has disappeared while working in Dubai. After a few months, his family has to move out of their apartment into a shack in the slums of Kolkata, India, where his sister witnesses something so horrible that she is lost in the dark corners of her mind. Trying to avoid a life on the streets, he takes it upon himself to look for a job to help his family and is lucky enough to find one, in a tea stall, to a man who humiliates with words and fists. Regardless of his cruel fate, Anand does not want to give up hope and secretly believes in magic. One day he imagines a string of magic pass him by. His mind rides on the stream and he desperately calls on it for help. Soon he finds himself away from home, in the companion of a child of the streets and an old man, battling dark magic, on a quest to return a magical conch to its rightful place.

What I most love about this book (other than the suspense and adventure), is Anand’s constant battle within himself. He is not the typical hero found in a book who is sugary sweet and resists temptation or, on the contrary, is prone to fits of rage. His battle with evil takes place inside his mind and heart. As he travels and is forced to make life-altering decisions, he simultaneously battles with his jealousy, envy, strong emotional attachment and dark magic that wants to take over his mind.

When he almost kills one of his companions, it is not his strong sense of morality that stops him, but an accidental injury. He feels impotent, confused and terrified that he will do it again. It is much later that he realizes he must sacrifice something precious to him if he and his companions are going to survive.

His battle continues until the very end of the story, which is not so much a happy ending as it is a new beginning for Anand. It was a satisfying read and I can’t wait to read the second book in the series.

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