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Vishesh Unni Raghunathan

By Eva Ibbotson
Macmillan, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 384, Rs. 300.00


The Star of Kazan won the Nestlé Children’s Book Prize Silver Award and was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal. Iva Ibbotson’s tribute to the place where she was born—Vienna, makes the first part of the book magical. We are taken through the streets of Vienna, introduced to its people and watch the emperor’s Lipizzaner horses perform. We lose ourselves in Annika’s world of friends, cooking and the professors, in whose house she lives with her mothers—the maid and the cook who found her in a church when she was a few days old. Annika always harbours a dream though—that one day her birth mother would turn up and she would be royalty. When ‘Van’ does turn up and claim to be Annika’s mother, she is overjoyed. Annika is whisked away and the book shifts to the cold world of North Germany, to an estate in ruins.  Iva Ibbotson, a multiple awards winner writes with wit and elan. Her language is exemplary, and the writing flows exceptionally. We can ‘see’  the shift from bright and lovely Vienna to the harsher North.While there are palaces, squares, orchestras in Vienna, in Spittal the roof leaks, the food is cold, everything seems derelict and no one tells her quite what is happening.  There is an inkling of something being amiss. Annika is a lively child who runs about on errands, helps her ‘mothers’ and acts out plays with her friends in a rundown place. She also fosters an important friendship with an old lady, La Rondine, from whom she inherits a truck of what seems like useless things. She is clever but innocent. She trusts her ‘birth mother’ Edeltraut von Tannenberg, whose actions never seem to match what she says, readily, but at the moment of reckoning, is intelligent enough to realize what is happening. What sets apart the best storytellers for children from the rest is their ability to present challenges at their level while keeping in touch with reality. Books turn into a medium to experience adventures and learn. Iva Ibbotson is a master of her craft. She builds the story from innocence, creates a mystery even through trust and finally finishes with wisdom and integrity. A complete story at times is more about balance than anything else. The Star of Kazan is rich in detail without being verbose, exciting without boiling over ...

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