Monday, May 2, 2011

Saraswati's Way

2010
233 pages, including glossary

I love to get books directly from the author.  Monika Schroder contacted me and asked if I would read and review her book and I casually replied "Yes, I'd love to..."  and at that point you never know how it's going to turn out but the book was wonderful.  I especially loved learning more about Indian culture and I fell in love with Akash and his passion for learning. 

Summary:    Leaving his village in rurual India to find a better education, mathematically gifted, twelve-year-old Akash arrives at the New Delhi train station, where he relies on Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge, to guide him as he negotiates life on the street, resists the temptations of easy money, and learns whom he can trust.

Akash's story demonstrates how difficult in many cultures it is to become educated and even though the United States has a public school system we experience the same; if your family does not value education that fact alone will make it hard to be a good student.  Akash has been in school but his math knowledge exceeds his teacher's and he needs to locate and pay for a math tutor so he can pass the a test and get a scholarship to get into a good high school.  His father believes in Akash's education but when his father dies his grandmother is quick to send him off to work in the rock quarry. 

After only a few days at the rock quarry Akash has the chance to "see" the ledger keeping all the accounts for the quarry.  When he realizes it will take him years and years to pay off his grandmother's debt he chooses to run away.  He knows he has what it takes to change and his desire is to be educated.  Jumping a train to Delhi Akash is hidden by a portly train employee.

In Delhi he doesn't know anyone and ends up sleeping in a box through the night.  While he's taken himself out of one bad situation (rock quarry) he quickly finds living on his own has its drawbacks. He has to deal with other boys fighting to stay alive, police, and drug dealers.  While Akash makes some good decisions and some bad ones he learns to keep his focus on finding an education.  On the train platform he eventually meets Ramesh-ji who runs the magazine stand.  He lets Akash sleep on top so he isn't bothered by the police officers in the night.  Ramesh and Akash build a good relationship, realizing there is more to each of them than one would think. 

Three Quotes:

Other street boys befriend Akash and teach him the ways of the station.  They all have ways to deal with their homelessness and hunger. 
"I will fly away," Deepak said, fluttering his arms. His face distorted to a horrid grin.

"Are they okay?" Akash asked.
"I told you," Rohit said. "The glue makes you see things that are not there."
"At first," Sunil said. "Then it makes you drowsy and when you can't stop it turns your brain into glue." (31)
and
"How come you didn't go to the movies?" Ramesh asked.  "Isn't it Friday today?"
"I didn't want to go.  I need to save my money for a tutor.  I found a man at Pahar Ganj who will teach me math."
"That is very wise of you," Ramesh-ji said, suddenly speaking in English.
"Ramesh-ji, I didn't know you spoke English."
"Maybe you would like to practice your English with me.  For the kind of school you want to go to, you need to speak, read, and write English well.  Didn't you even bring an English textbook?"
"How do you know English?" Akash asked.
"I used to work as a cook for British people," Ramesh said. "That was a long time ago." (35)

Schroder does a great job of intergrating Indian culture so anyone reading will have learned from their experience...
Akash would have like to accompany him to the temple, but since Ramesh didn't offer to take him, he didn't dare ask.  Navratri, the nine nights before Dussehra, had always been one of his favorite festivals.  In the evenings he had joined the other youths from the village to watch the dandia dance.  The men would form a circle on the outside and the women one in the inside.  When the music began each cirle started to rotate slowly in opposite directions.  (34)
I loved reading this book and couldn't wait to see how Akash dealt with the street boys and the drug dealers, especially when he decided to become a courier to make some money.  It is an intense story and I was cheering for Akash to get back on the right path.  Luckily his deep desire for an education does win out and Akash and Ramesh find a way to work together. 

This is a perfect middle school mulitcultural read.  Thank you to Monika Schroder for sensing my need to read her gem.  To find it at an Independent bookseller near you, click on the title...Saraswati's Way
 

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