Wednesday 7 November 2012

The Unforgotten Coat

The Unforgotten Coat The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce, photographs by Carl Hunter and Clare Heney (Walker Books Australia)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-1-4063-4154-6
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Julie is the narrator of the story. After many years, she returns to the school of her childhood which is about to be demolished. In the lost property, she finds the Mongolian coat that brings back the memory of the two brothers who entered her classroom one hot day dressed in clothes straight out of their mountainous countryside, and changed her perception of, and interest in life forever.

There begins the most amazing but funny story of Chingis and his younger brother Nergui, and their claim to Julie that she is their Good Guide.

Julie, an intelligent and diligent student, finds being chosen as something special a novelty. She embraces the role and the boys. Their superstitions and fears are accepted immediately as part and parcel of this strange but interesting pair.

The boys learn quickly. They become disguised within the knowledge and the language they quickly master, so the demon they are fearful of, who they believe will make them vanish, won’t recognize them.

Julie is beguiled by the tales Chingis relates to her about his homeland. These stories are reinforced by the photographs he carries with him depicting the beauty and mystery of his origins, taken by the Polaroid camera that accompany him everywhere that adds to the magic that the stories weave around her.

But the brothers are secretive about their parents and where they live. They fear the demon will make them vanish as others have vanished before them. “That’s why we had to leave home- because people kept vanishing’.

It is in discovering the heartbreaking truth of who the demon is that Julie loses a part of herself with the departure of the two brothers.  (Fortunately this story has a happy ending thanks to Facebook).

This impressive and beautifully presented story is extremely moving and delicate, though it is not until we are well into the book that the theme of illegal migrants is identified. The book is presented as an exercise book or journal with ruled lines. Its design is enhanced by the inclusion of the marvellous photos referred to throughout the text.

Reading this extraordinary book, there is no questioning the reason why The Unforgotten Coat is shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award 2012.  Winner of the Carnegie Medal for his first book, Millions, multi-talented Frank Cottrell Boyce is well known for his many screenwriting successes.

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