|A Time of Miracles by Anne-Laure Bondoux, |
translated from the French by Y. Maudet
I would've loved this book when I was in middle school. Back then, I sought out stories of heartbreak and disaster---most of them set in wartime and most of them offering a glimpse of the beauty still possible in the middle of human waves of conflict. Most of those stories would've been set during the Holocaust, but this one isn't. It begins in a makeshift camp called the Complex, in 1992, a time so recent that I was bewildered not to know of it, scrambling to figure out what was going on and why bad things were happening around me. Everything seemed as achingly real and as slightly off-kilter as a vivid dream.
The precise language here is stunning, and manages to be wholly clear while retaining a cadence that makes you believe the translator didn't stray far from the original French. Most of all, the novel never wavers from the viewpoint of the child narrator, a boy named Koumail, who as a baby was rescued from a train wreck with only a French passport. As he journeys with his rescuer, the saintly Gloria, he grows slowly more aware of both his past and his dangerous present until at last, he (and we) can see the whole of the story which has engulfed him.
If I'd have studied the map at the front of the book, I might have realized sooner that this was a story of refugees fleeing the armed conflict that followed the breakup of the Soviet Union, but I was afraid of learning too much too soon. And to me, this is the magic of A Time of Miracles. We witness only as much as we are able to bear, but grow capable by the end of the story of knowing the full truth.
Highly recommended. Cross-posted at my Goodreads account.
Note: This book was the winner of the 2011 Batchelder Award 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." I'm not embarrassed to say that I read it because my friend, Adrienne Furness, served on the committee that chose it, and I was deeply curious to see what she and her fellow librarians had selected.