Wednesday 29 May 2013

Mysterious Traveller

Mysterious Traveller by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham, illustrated by P.J. Lynch (Walker Books)
HC RRP $29.95
ISBN 9781406337075
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Issa the guide has magic eyes. He can read the desert better than anyone, ‘its tracks and its tricks…its moods and its mountains’. His life changes the day he finds a ribbon floating in the air and the baby protected by a camel in the desert.

The old man names the baby Mariama. As she grows older, Issa knows she’s been sent to him to be his eyes for he has slowly become blind. Mariama must learn to describe the world with words for Issa.

Then three men arrive. Issa with Mariama agree to guide them through the Bitter Mountains for the payment of a bag of pearls which will be kept as a dowry for the orphan girl. But the travellers renege on the agreement when they realize that Issa is blind and they set off alone into the desert. Issa reads the wind and knows danger looms so he and Mariama follow the men in order to save their lives.

An incredible story is revealed by the mysterious, youngest traveller. It’s a story of loss which goes far back in time and one that is tied to Mariama. Issa’s life changes course again.

This is an extraordinary book which is ideal for older readers. The story is inspired by a real happening during the travels of the gold and salt caravans in Africa. The illustrator’s use of muted earthy colours combines with the moving lyrical language to rise like a crescendo from the page.

P. J. Lynch, the illustrator of the magnificent The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski, has done a superb job. He has set the pictures inside decorative frames reminiscent of the Arabian Nights. The jacket cover is breathtaking and replicated on the book’s cover which shows Mariama and the blind Issa looking out into the distance at the desert.

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