I want to describe this book as an allegorical fable – maybe that’s a mixed metaphor, but it will have to do for the minute.
Simbala lives in an unnamed village in an unnamed country. The village is on a river, which is essential to the survival of the villagers, but also to the rest of the country. Simbala is one of a line of women who are the keepers of “the Book” – a book which provides answers to almost any question asked of it. The Book and the women who guard it are as important to the village’s wellbeing as the river.
A visitor – an ethnographic researcher – comes to the village because she has heard about the book and its power. She interviews many people, including Simbala. After she leaves, Simbala discovers that the book has gone.
What follows is a wonderful story of how Simbala vows to find the thief and bring him, or her, to justice – or at least to a realisation of the impact the theft has had on the village.
It’s a powerful little story, and touches on themes of conservation, indigenous custom and its rights, and not least, disempowerment. It’s well-written and well-crafted and keeps the reader keen to find out what follows. Simbala is a wonderfully-drawn central character, and other characters also leap off the page
I’d recommend it to anyone at all. It’s an undemanding but very engaging read.
Reviewed by Sue Esterman
The River and the Book
by Alison Croggon
Published by Walker Books