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Anila's Journey

Anila's Journey

4.0 1
by Mary Finn

Set in colonial India, this richly layered coming-of-age tale follows a spirited young artist on a journey up the Ganges — and through the enigmas of her past.

How can Anila Tandy, left to fend for herself after her mother's death, dare to apply for a job that is clearly not meant for a woman? But somehow the "Bird Girl of Calcutta," art


Set in colonial India, this richly layered coming-of-age tale follows a spirited young artist on a journey up the Ganges — and through the enigmas of her past.

How can Anila Tandy, left to fend for herself after her mother's death, dare to apply for a job that is clearly not meant for a woman? But somehow the "Bird Girl of Calcutta," art supplies in hand, finds herself on an eye-opening journey up the Ganges, apprenticed to a gentleman scientist. As the lush landscape slips by, Anila dives into her past — a past where her beautiful Bengali mother still tells stories and her Irish father's mysterious disappearance lingers. Gorgeously written and rich with atmosphere, Mary Finn's debut novel tells the story of a determined young artist who must make her way in the dangerous world of late-eighteenth-century India.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A remarkable book . . . a writer to watch." — The GUARDIAN (U.K.) — The Guardian

"Pulsing with the sights and sounds of place and period, a confident, polished work it is, suitable not just for the teenage market, but adults too." — IRISH INDEPENDENT — Irish Independent

VOYA - Christine Sanderson
Anila is a young woman alone in the world in late-eighteenth-century India. The child of an Indian mother and an Irish father, she is not accepted by either society. With her mother dead and her father gone, she has few options for her future. She has artistic talent, however, and her guardian, Miss Hickey, brings her information about a possible position. Anila becomes an apprentice draughtsman to Mr. Walker, a Scotsman traveling the Ganges River in search of a rare bird. Anila is also a storyteller. So while she tells the reader about her journey on the Ganges, she also tells the story of her childhood, when her father left and her mother sacrificed herself to support her family, and how she met her grandfather and finally found her father. Finn's novel educates the reader in many areas. The British occupation of India, the birds found along the Ganges, and the artist Thomas Hickey are elements of this story. The book also uses the narrative technique of story within a story, when Anila tells of her past as she describes the present. The author includes a glossary to define Indian terms and explain historical information. Although the novel will appeal to middle school and junior high students, it might require some background reading on their part if they are not familiar with the period and India's history. Reviewer: Christine Sanderson
KLIATT - Claire Rosser
Finn saw a painting that hangs in The National Gallery of Ireland called An Indian Lady, painted by Thomas Hickey, and the painting was the inspiration for this historical novel. The story is set in India, near Calcutta, in the 18th century, and all the characters except Hickey are fictional. Finn imagines the world of a young artist, a girl whose parents can't marry because the mother is Indian and the father is Irish. (Such marriages were illegal at that time.) Because this story is about artists, the language is rich with visual images, all the more exotic because of the vivid colors and beauty of colonial India. Anila and her mother are much loved by Patrick Tandy, Anila's Irish father, a draftsman who works for the East India Company. He provides for his family as well as he is able on his meager salary, and teaches Anila to read and write and to draw. She is fluent in both English and in Bengali, her mother's language. When the father leaves them to return to Ireland, promising to come back to them, their lives disintegrate quickly and Anila's mother is financially pressured into becoming the mistress of a rich Englishman. It is in his care that they meet the famous artist, Mr. Hickey, who paints Anila's mother's portrait (the portrait Mary Finn actually found in Dublin). When Anila's mother sickens and dies, mostly because of heartbreak, Anila is protected by Hickey and his daughter. There is an actual journey at the center of this book: Anila accompanies an Englishman, who is a naturalist and something of an anthropologist, on a boat trip; it is her job to draw the birds they see on the river. They do see wonderful birds, and Anila meets her mother's family, includingher own grandfather; they encounter brutality and betrayal, but also Anila discovers that her father is alive. On page after page, Mary Finn takes her readers with her to Anila's life, to India, to the unfairness of colonialism, to a blending of cultures, to the wild things in the marshes and jungles, and to the homes Anila knows, humble and grand. The details are remarkable, but it is the drama of the plot and the characters that keeps us moving quickly through the pages in this exceptionally fine historical novel. Reviewer: Claire Rosser
Children's Literature - Uma Krishnaswami
This is the story of a mixed-race girl with a missing Irish father and a dead Indian (Bengali) mother. Young Anila Tandy has both a gift for drawing and a fascination with birds, and we meet her at the start of a journey that turns out to be both real and metaphorical. The story plays out in alternating segments from the past and present, all related to Anila's struggle to remain in Calcutta since she is convinced as she is that her father will return for her. This early and continuous placement of backstory is an interesting and effective device that (mostly) manages not to distract from the primary story. However, her early motivation to remain where the father will find her, in a charming folly of a teahouse on the grounds of her guardian Miss Hickey's residence seems to fizzle out, rendering the first third of the book somewhat episodic. The story gathers in energy as it recounts Anila's journey up the Hooghly while she is apprenticed to a scholar seeking to document avian life along the river. That journey proceeds in tandem with intensifying conflict in Anila's past, when her mother is forced by her circumstances to become bibi to an Englishman, Mr. Bristol. Finn takes the social realities of the time and whittles them into scenes both personal and poignant. For example, Anila's mother adorned herself like a married woman, even though Patrick Tandy never married her, and the stark, cold words of Mr. Bristol's agreement that young Anila has to read to her mother. Any tale of the Raj practically requires the setting to be something akin to a character. Finn sketches the pre-Mutiny social setting of Bengal, in which Europeans and Indians interacted more freely than under thestricter social divides imposed post-1857. The limited and limiting nature of her young character's knowledge of her world makes the first-person viewpoint a wise choice, as the author can then be seen to make no larger commentary than that of Anila's perspective. Finn stays close to Anila throughout, whether she is recalling memories of her mother or observing telling details of the boat and the river. Culturally-grounded explanations (e.g., "I'm named Annapurna after the great food provider, but look, this is all I can offer you.") feel less seamless and more imposed, and a few small details are off-key (e.g., the tailor delivering saris, rather than the customary traveling vendors of the time). Coincidences play perhaps too large a role, and the resolution, though completely fascinating, arrives a little too tidily packaged. The book was inspired by "Indian Bibi Jemdanee,"a 1787 painting by Thomas Hickey that hangs in the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin. Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami
School Library Journal

Gr 7-10

In this tale set in 18th-century India, orphaned teen Anila is living with an Irish painter and his daughter in Calcutta. She misses her deceased mother and dreams of finding her father, who disappeared years earlier. A smart, unconventional girl with a talent for art, Anila has hit upon great good fortune. Her guardians are generous and influential and land her a job with an open-minded English naturalist who is conducting a river expedition to search for new bird species. The journey is intercut with flashbacks of her life from childhood to the present. The young woman meets with violence and harassment, but she is strong and forges on despite adversity. Her journey will captivate patient readers. Finn's first novel sketches vivid images of the Indian landscape, and her characters are as vibrant as their surroundings. The nicely paced story is well balanced between Anila's past and present.-Geri Diorio, The Ridgefield Library, CT

Kirkus Reviews

A half-Indian, half-Irish girl finds her past on a trip down the Ganges. Anila is the daughter of an Irish businessman and his Bengali mistress in 19th-century India. Anila, a gifted painter, has been ward to (real-life) painter Thomas Hickey and friend to Hickey's daughter. But when the Hickeys move to Madras, Anila stays in Calcutta. Only in Calcutta, she believes, will she find her long-lost father, who years ago left for Ireland promising to send for Anila and her mother. She has been with the Hickeys since her mother's death, killed by shame after becoming another white man's mistress. Now Anila seeks work. Painting birds for a British naturalist on a Ganges journey, she learns about her homeland, her family and herself. It's unfortunate that Anila's protectors and mentors are all white; otherwise the novel thoughtfully explores race relations in the Company Raj through the eyes of a mixed-blood teenager. Nonetheless, Anila's story is a heartwarming, rich, believable coming-of-age. (Historical fiction. 13-15)

Product Details

Candlewick Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)
900L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 Years

Meet the Author

Mary Finn worked for years as a magazine journalist with Radio Telefís Eireann, the Irish broadcasting service. She says ANILA'S JOURNEY, her first novel, was inspired by the story behind the eighteenth-century PORTRAIT OF AN INDIAN LADY painted by Thomas Hickey. Mary Finn lives in Dublin.

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Anila's Journey 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
When Anila Tandy's guardians, the Hickeys, decide to leave Calcutta, they beg her to accompany them, but she stubbornly refuses to come so that just in case her long-gone father returns as he promised many years ago, she'll be there. Miss Hickey then sets her up with everything she'll need to survive by herself. Most importantly, she finds Anila a job as a bird painter on an expedition up the Ganges River. As the days go by and she discovers new birds, she also reflects on her past. How life was like when her mother was still alive and her father was still around, or remembering the stories her mother used to tell. Along the journey, Anila also finds herself and grows up. ANILA'S JOURNEY was a well-written historical story. The re-creation of historic India was fascinating and I enjoyed learning more about the older Indian culture. I thought that it was really interesting how Mary Finn alternated the chapters by telling what Anila was experiencing at the present and then stories about Anila's past - and then bringing them together in the end. Anila herself was an interesting character who really grew up throughout the novel and became her true self. I loved all of the culture references and felt like I learned quite a bit. At times, the book got dry and I found that it was hard to keep reading, but then it would get better over time. Overall, I really did enjoy the book.