Review Blog

Jun 19 2012

Mountain wolf by Rosanne Hawke

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Angus and Robertson, 2012. ISBN 978 0 732293871.
(Ages: 14+) Highly recommended. Pakistan earthquake. Child slavery. An earthquake in the hills of Pakistan ruins the life of Razaq, the son of a family of sheep herders living in a small community. With all his family dead, Razaq must find his way to the city and his Uncle Javaid for help.
After talking to some Aid workers, he finds his uncle's wife's aunt, and being a dutiful Muslim boy, helps her with with food and shelter. Dazed by what has happened she thinks he is her son, and when a man offers to get him a job in the city, she complies and sends Razaq with him. This is the first time Razaq is sold, and each sale brings a further degradation in his life, but he remains hopeful that he will find his uncle. His journey takes him to the slums of Rawalpindi where he is befriended by several children living on the trash heaps. But he is soon found and returned to the last person who bought him, and beaten for escaping. He is sold on to Mrs Mumtaz and here to his horror, he is trained to be a masseuse but told to offer extras. When he is disobedient he is locked in his room, receiving food from the eunuch, Bilal, who discloses how he came to be cut.
Chapters from the perspective of his uncle, show the two are coming closer together, and reveal the enormity of the problem within these cities as he scours government departments, church groups, aid workers and street people for information about his nephew.
This story of a boy being sold from one hand to another, finally ending up as a male prostitute, gives an immensely human face to the stories heard on nightly news programs. These skim the surface, while this book gives an informed and layered tale of children in need being used by those who should care for them. Rosanne Hawke sends a clear message that both Islamic and Christian teachings expect children to be protected. She shows that a few take advantage of their vulnerability, instead of keeping them safe.
This is one extraordinary book. Every sentence breathes the essence of life in the Muslim world: no reader can miss the references to close knit families, or the obligation family members owe to each other, often looking for their relative long after hope is almost lost.
But Rosanne Hawke also paints the seamier side of life particularly well. Sensing that a child is to be raped, I was amazed at how she was able to show this without making it lewd, managing to inform while at the same time making the reader cry out with fear for the child, and keep reading, hoping that something good would happen. She does not hold back on what happens to Razaq in the brothel, nor what happens to the other children there, one of whom, the young girl, Tahira, becomes dear to him.
This is an important book for secondary students to read. Not only do they get a particularly good story, well told, but they will learn much about a society that is often villified in our press. In Razaq and the other children he meets along the way we see what happens to children in war or a disaster where protection for the vulnerable is ignored. And this could apply to any children, anywhere.
Fran Knight

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