I really enjoyed this story by debut author Joan Haig. It conjured up a real sense of place in both Scotland and India. I love stories that cross genres. This provides an intriguing balance of family drama, real-world adventure and mystery mixed with magical realism. It is filled with some great description and action, with several twists and turns to keep your attention. There are also some important messages about family and what it means to belong. I would highly recommend for children aged 9+ years.
Lal and his brother Dilip have recently moved to Scotland with their mum, dad and Naniji from India. They are homesick. Their parents bought the house from an old lady together with the furniture. One day Dilip finds the tiger skin rug in the living room is real, and can magic into a real talking tiger.
“Something – what was it? – was rippling, across the tiger skin, rippling from underneath it. The ripples were growing…” (p21)
The tiger needs their help to unravel some secrets and honour an old promise and in return for their help he promised to take them home. This takes them on a journey first to a closed-down auction house near Waterloo station, then to Coventry in search of a professor and onto India, as it turns out the professor is at a conference there.
There is a wonderful part in the first few chapters where local girl Jenny confuses the Scottish for ‘lassie’ (a girls or young woman) with the Indian drink ‘lassi’ (an Indian yogurt drink). The way that the author handles this helps the reader understand what it might be like to be in a new place and to explore ideas relating to belonging.
“My lassi filled me with happiness – cardamom, brown sugar and Indian sea-sides; tangy tastes of things I missed, the sweet and sour of home. Jenny liked her milkshake and gulped it down: maybe she was OK, after all.” (p19)
You do have to take a little leap in the part where they fly on a magic tiger rug all the way to India! But, once in India descriptions make you feel like you are really there. The shift to India has been made easier for the reader by the author’s decision to start the story in Scotland. This means the reader experiences India through the eyes of a child who knows it well but whom is also delighted to return. Which somehow makes it feel less foreign (for those that don’t know India) Though even Lal discovers there he has things to learn about the contrasts between the rich and the poor in India.
The children finally track down Menko Chatterjee (the University professor). and he and the children return to the Indian forest where he grew up. For a truly special ending and a few final twists. Danger still lurks and will the tiger get to complete his mission? You will have to read it to find out!
You can read my chat with the author here
You can buy the book from Cranachan publishers here.