A Chola Adventure by Anu Kumar is the first book I bought in the Girls of India series of historical adventures by Puffin. It is Hemant Kumar’s cover illustration that caught my attention.
The protagonist is twelve-year old Raji, whose mother, the famed dancer Menaka, is in exile. Hazy versions of her exile are known to Raji, but she has innumerable questions for which she doesn’t yet know the answer. When her father, the renowned sculptor Keshavan, who followed his wife, returns eventually, Raji is partially happy.
Keshavan teaches Raji to make toy sculptures. On one occasion the crown prince Rajendra, son of the king Rajaraja Chola, gets to see her exquisite sculptures. Impressed by her sculptures, Rajendra convinces his father and Raji’s family, that Raji should move to the palace and be under the tutelage of great tutors there.
Raji moves, but misses her family. Rajendra and his cousin Ananta, keep her company. She identifies with Ananta, who also has a missing parent. Ananta’s father, the great admiral Gopalan went on a voyage long back, but never returned.
One night, in a raging storm, Raji saves a Chinese sailor who is washed ashore. Raji names him Liu and keeps him in hiding. Liu is a designer of new boats and ships which can sail faster.
The Nataraja statue that Keshavan sculpts as his magnum opus, goes missing. There is the death of the high priest inside the Brihadeeswara temple under construction. Or was it a murder? An astrologer who claims to know more is found dead inside the palace tank. The plot thickens with the missing prince Madurantaka returning and accusing Liu to be a smuggler and the murderer of the astrologer.
Too many questions, but too few answers. Read this intriguing book to unravel facts about the Chola kindgom hidden beneath the fantastic fiction that Anu Kumar has woven together in the historical backdrop.
If it reminds you of some of the books in the History-Mystery series by Natasha Sharma like Ashoka and the Muddled Messages, Razia and the Pesky Presents and Rajaraja and the Swapped Sacks, well, it is indeed similar.
But unlike Natasha’s humorous versions meant for beginner readers, this one is more adventurous and suits middle grade readers.
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- An interesting plot filled with intrigue, set in the period of the famous Chola king Rajaraja makes for interesting reading. But for the next day being a work day, I would not have force shut the book late in the night, as I kept extending my bedtime reading session.
- The characterization of Raji is refreshing. A dancer, a warrior and a sculptor she is. One of the best books I have read with girl protagonists.
- The writing style of Anu Kumar is minutely descriptive with rich visual imagery. Her ability to paint the scenes with mere words is commendable. I paused, rewound and reread several passages just to take in the beauty described by the words and the beauty of the words.
Every morning was different now. The sound of her father working, chisel hitting stone, comforted Raji as she lay still, those few moments before the sun came in, and the long black palm-leaf shadows outside lengthened and moved towards her, prodding her fully awake.
- The cover design is very attractive. Full marks to Hemant Kumar.
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- Some details were amiss, which was jarring in an otherwise flowing narration. A reference to Kovalam (instead of Kovalan) as the merchant who was mistakenly punished to death by the king of Madurai. Then, the Chinese sailor’s words in Tamil, given as “நான் மீண்டும் பார்க்க முடியாது” and translated with the opposite meaning of “I will see you again”.