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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

a time of miracles, written by anne-laure bondoux. Delacorte, Random House, 2010. $20.99 ages 12 and up

"Let me begin: My name is Blaise
Fortune. I am a citizen of the French
Republic, even though I spent the
first eleven years of my life in the
Caucasus, a vast region located
between the Black Sea and the
Caspian Sea, per page 78 of the
green atlas. At the time I spoke
Russian and people called me
Koumail. It might seem strange,
but it's easy to understand. I just
have to tell my story. And it the right order."

"The Batchelder Award is a citation awarded to an American publisher for a children's book considered to be the most outstanding of those books originally published in a language other than English in a country other than the United States, and subsequently translated into English and published in the United States".

Why is it important for us to know that? Well, because I want to tell you about this year's winner...a book I loved and read in one sitting. It is so elegant and heartfelt. It is the story of a mother's love, life as a refugee, a perilous trek across countless miles and endless years and the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. Have I piqued
your interest? I hope won't be sorry. It is a great read!

It is also very emotional and heartbreaking, but it has such moments of sweetness and wisdom. Gloria regales Blaise (whom she also calls Koumail) nightly with the story of how they came to be together. Gloria lived with her family in the Republic of Georgia and was picking apples when she heard a train derail and ran to see if she could be of any help. There she found a young woman with a baby, and the mother was dying. Gloria took the baby and his papers and has taken care of him since the Terrible Accident. When he is seven, the Soviet Union collapses and there is nothing for the two of them to do but flee. It is the beginning of a long and arduous journey peopled with wondrous supporters and mean-spirited users. Through it all, Gloria pushes them towards France and freedom, a better life for the boy she loves and for herself.

They face many obstacles during their five year trip. Through all the tough times, including Gloria's lung disease, she keeps their focus on the future. There are many heartaches and the spectre of war is daunting:

"In my mind, war looks like a ferocious and famished beast hiding in the nooks of the mountains and the dark forests shown on page 79 of my green atlas. I put my finger on the winding roads and imagine the unavoidable advance of armies looking for one another. Bombs crush and rip villages open. War chases families away, destroys pasturelands, gobbles up soldiers. It is ferocious."

Just when it seems that their journey is nearing an end and France is in sight, they have another setback:

“This is how my childhood ended: brutally, on the side of a highway, when I realized that Gloria had disappeared and that I would have to cope without her in the country known for human rights and for the poetry of Charles Baudelaire.”

Koumail makes a life for himself in France, always wondering about Gloria and mindful of their love for each other. When he receives a letter that Gloria has been found and is alive, he sets off to see her. He finds her in Tbilisi in a hospital where she has been for seven years. She is dying of her dreadful lung disease. Overjoyed at seeing her again, Blaise (Koumail) spends time with her reminiscing and hearing his story all over again...his new and real story. And he makes her a promise:

"So as my tears run down my cheeks, I promise her that I will live my life the way she taught me to. I will always walk straight ahead toward new horizons."


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