Review Blog

Nov 04 2014

Malini by Robert Hillman

cover image

Allen & Unwin, 2014. ISBN 9781743312551.
(Age: Yrs 5-8)
'Malini watched the Tamil Tiger intently. She was standing with the other students under the six hemlocks that had been planted by the British half a century earlier. 'This year', the commander said, 'the war will be won. The soldier-martyrs of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam will tear the hearts from the chests of our enemies. In fire and blood, our homeland will be born. And you will play your part.' He extended his hand towards a group of six boys standing together under one of the hemlocks, the youngest, Malini knew, just eleven years old. 'Come to me', he said. After some hesitation, the six boys walked to the front of the gathering and lined up beside the commander. He only ever took six boys at a time..Tears found a path down Malini's face. She would never see these boys again. They would fight the enemy and they would die.'
This is not the first time that Malini has seen this and so when the soldiers come to her home at dawn and order the family outside, they go, knowing that to disobey will mean they will be killed. They are to be part of a human shield protecting the defeated soldiers as they make their way to the coast as this war between the Hindu Tamils and the government-backed Buddhist Sri Lankan Army winds down after 30 years. But on the march, Malini's father sees an opportunity for Malini and her sister Banni to escape and, pushing a mobile phone into her hands, shoves them into the forest and urges them to make their way to their grandfather's village in the north-east away from the fighting.
And so begins a remarkable tale of danger, adventure, hardship, and friendship as Malini, at just 14 becomes 'mother' and protector to Banni as well as a rag-tag crew of others as they make their way across a landscape which poses enough problems without the added peril of being caught by soldiers of either side or wandering into a village where culture dictates they will have to stay.
In an account that is balanced between Hindu and Buddhist perspectives, as well as Tamil and SLA, the author provides an amazing insight into the life of children in a war zone that, at the very least, should help our students appreciate what they have here. Malini is a strong protagonist but even she buckles at times, giving her a real personality that make her credible and the reader is compelled to read on to find out whether she will reach safe haven.
Malini is the latest is a series called Through My Eys  which 'invites young readers to enter the fragile worlds of children living in contemporary war zones' and includes Shahana set in Kashmir; Amina in Somalia; Naveed (Afghanistan); Emilio (Mexico); and, in March 2015, Zafir set in Syria. While it is tragic that conflict continues to engulf the children of the world so that there is always a story to be told, nevertheless the stories do have to be told and our students need to read them.
There is an interview with and information about Robert Hillman as well as teachers' notes for 'Malini' at the publisher's website. The book itself offers a brief history of the war and a timeline of Sri Lankan history as well as links to sources for more information. Teachers' notes and other resources for the entire series are available through the main website.
When Malala Yousafzai was asked which book she thought everyone should read, she replied Parvana (also available through Allen & Unwin) but I believe she would also recommend this series if she knew about it.
Barbara Braxton

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