Fozia and the quest of Prince Zal by Rosanne Hawke

cover image

The third in a series which began with Kelsey and the quest of the porcelain doll (2014) this heartwarming story reveals the lives of children whose lives are turned upside down by a natural disaster in Pakistan, the worst flood in living memory. Whole towns and villages are swept away and Fozia loses all she loves, but is taken in by a family, who although loving and inviting, are not her real family.

Cleverly Hawke compares her two lives. If still with her family she would have been working in the brick kiln in the village to cover her father's debts, while now she is able to go to school, an aim she has held all of her twelve years. At night she tells her small cousins a story, one involving a lame prince, the least of his family, searching for his lost sister. The story recalls Fozia's lost family, intertwining stories heard as a child, stories she has known all her life, and it wraps her with comfort and longing.

Two threads weave together within this tale; one a story being told by Fozia, the other about her situation and her lost family, each story impelling the enthralled readers to turn each page with unabashed pleasure and hope.

As with Rosanne's other books, the immediacy of the setting is vivid and memorable. It is ever present, part of the fabric of the book, from the tents in which Fozia lives after the flood, the quilts she is making for the camp, the roti she bakes, the dung cakes the boys are supposed to be making, the sight of the brick kiln and all it means for her family. Each chapter reveals another aspect of the lives of this Pakistani family, so familiar to Rosanne after living in the region for ten years. It is this familiarity which gives her novels about this region of the world their solid base; her stories are built on a love and affinity with the families which make up her stories, each incident something she has seen, heard or shared. And children will love learning the Urdu words that crop up in the text, words used everyday by the family, words that are familiar and will roll off the reader's tongue, rarely having to refer to the glossary at the end of the book.

We know Fozia has a secret and this is revealed by degrees as we learn of the family's debt, their shared secret, the reason the prince in the tale is so named. But when questions are asked of Fozia and conversations hushed as she comes into the room she realises that has a choice to make.

A memorable read that will live with readers long after the last page is read, this story recalls people and incidents from the two preceding novels, adding another layer of interest and delight. Teacher's notes are available. 

Themes: Pakistan, Floods, Orphans, Family, Leprosy.

Fran Knight