In this Indian children’s book, a very young Muslim girl named Zuni hides with her family from the violence of Partition inside the walled garden of a mosque, and finds not merely a refuge but a whole new world, just the right size for a little girl to explore. She lines the ceiling of their hut with peacock feathers, picks fresh chilies and oranges, watches a peahen raise her family, and finally ventures out to see how the world outside has changed.

Though terrible things happen in the background, this is not remotely an awesomely depressing book. Zuni focuses, as children often do when they’re not personally suffering, on the beauty and freshness of her new surroundings and on the adventure of living a completely different life. Because the story is told from her point of view, it’s rewarding reading for both a child, who can see the whole story as she sees it, and for an adult, who will catch the ironies and the perspectives of her family that Zuni is far too young to understand.

I suppose the book could be criticized for not being dark enough, given the premise – people die, but no one Zuni knows well, and she’s more excited over getting laddoos after spending months without a single sweet – but I thought it was a plausible depiction of a child's point of view. (I also liked Hope and Glory, in which an English boy experiences the Blitz as a grand adventure.) When I read it, I was only a little older than Zuni and identified with her completely.

This was one of my favorite books when I was a child living in India, but I lost it when I moved back to the USA. I finally located a copy and re-read it, twenty-five years later. It was just as lovely and evocative as I recalled, full of sentences so simple and perfect that even as a ten-year-old, I understood that it was beautifully written. Desai’s images – earth baked by the sun into shiny pink tiles, a friend’s precious toy (a set of chipped clay mangoes), a glass of warm sugared water scented with roses - stayed with me for many years.

My original copy either didn’t have illustrations or had different ones, but I liked the realistic drawings by Mei-Yim Low in this edition. Used copies are available here: The Peacock Garden
In this Indian children’s book, a very young Muslim girl named Zuni hides with her family from the violence of Partition inside the walled garden of a mosque, and finds not merely a refuge but a whole new world, just the right size for a little girl to explore. She lines the ceiling of their hut with peacock feathers, picks fresh chilies and oranges, watches a peahen raise her family, and finally ventures out to see how the world outside has changed.

Though terrible things happen in the background, this is not remotely an awesomely depressing book. Zuni focuses, as children often do when they’re not personally suffering, on the beauty and freshness of her new surroundings and on the adventure of living a completely different life. Because the story is told from her point of view, it’s rewarding reading for both a child, who can see the whole story as she sees it, and for an adult, who will catch the ironies and the perspectives of her family that Zuni is far too young to understand.

I suppose the book could be criticized for not being dark enough, given the premise – people die, but no one Zuni knows well, and she’s more excited over getting laddoos after spending months without a single sweet – but I thought it was a plausible depiction of a child's point of view. (I also liked Hope and Glory, in which an English boy experiences the Blitz as a grand adventure.) When I read it, I was only a little older than Zuni and identified with her completely.

This was one of my favorite books when I was a child living in India, but I lost it when I moved back to the USA. I finally located a copy and re-read it, twenty-five years later. It was just as lovely and evocative as I recalled, full of sentences so simple and perfect that even as a ten-year-old, I understood that it was beautifully written. Desai’s images – earth baked by the sun into shiny pink tiles, a friend’s precious toy (a set of chipped clay mangoes), a glass of warm sugared water scented with roses - stayed with me for many years.

My original copy either didn’t have illustrations or had different ones, but I liked the realistic drawings by Mei-Yim Low in this edition. Used copies are available here: The Peacock Garden
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