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In India, a healer invites twelve-year-old Anand to join him on a quest to return a magical conch to its safe and rightful home, high in the Himalayan mountains.
Divakaruni makes her children's book debut with this exotic novel, in which fantasy threads intertwine with spiritual teachings. While 12-year-old Anand is at work one day at a tea stall in Kolkata, India, he offers a beggar man his own ration of tea and pooris, only to discover that the man is a healer, Abhaydatta. Abhaydatta enlists Anand's help in his mission to return a sacred conch shell to the community of Master Healers that live in the Himalayas. The way in which Abhaydatta wins Anand's confidence is just a preview of the magic and miracles to follow (he heals Anand's sister, who had stopped speaking after witnessing a murder). A street urchin joins the pair on their journey; Surabhanu, the one who stole the conch from its rightful place in the Himalayas, with powers dark enough to match Abhaydatta's light, dogs their every step; and the journey itself brims with magical beasts and enchanted streams, cliffs and winds. As with any true quest, Anand must look within in order to complete his mission. Divakaruni keeps her tale fresh and riveting with details of India's smells, sights and tastes, with characters that possess both good and evil, and with her exploration of the fine line between faith and magic. Young readers can only hope for more from this master storyteller.
In modern-day India, a boy named Anand perseveres in difficult circumstances. His father is gone, his sister has had a breakdown, and he and his mother struggle to keep a shack's roof over their heads. Anand is kind to an old man, Abhaydatta, a healer who is charged with bringing home an irreplaceable conch shell, stolen from his brotherhood. What follows is a classic quest story in which Anand and feisty, orphaned Nisha eventually continue the quest for the shell on their own. Faced with all the conventions of the genre, they undergo various trials, and Anand makes choices that change his life. Fantasy lovers will recognize familiar elements; certain touches are reminiscent of the Harry Potter books (the evil one takes the shape of a snake) and C. S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (tempting food controls a child). With so many fantasies being published, what's special about this one? It's the unique setting, along with the elegance of Divakaruni's writing. The slums of "Kalcotta" are so richly created that readers can almost smell them, and the pure beauty of Anand's destination is a shimmering Shangri-La come to life. The characterizations have the same lucidity, real to the core, yet cloaked in magic. This speaks directly to children, in a very enticing voice.
School Library Journal
Anand's compassionate gesture of sharing his tea with an old man in a Calcutta market leads to radical changes in the 12-year-old's life. The stranger is a member of the Brotherhood of Healers and invites the boy to join him on a dangerous journey to return a magical conch shell to its proper home in the far-off Himalayas. Along with Nisha, a sweeper-girl who insists on joining them, Anand and Abhaydatta travel to the mountains pursued by the evil Surabhanu, a power-hungry ex-member of the brotherhood. Anand struggles in his own mind, doubting Abhaydatta's motives and the existence of magic, jealous of Nisha's comfortable relationship with the old man, and occasionally succumbing to Surabhanu's tempting illusions. When he finally reaches the Silver Valley, more challenges await him before he can enter. In the end, he faces the most difficult choice of all-to stay in the world of magic he had always dreamed of or return to his family. This quest adventure has an exotic flavor: the journey from a crowded Indian city through rural villages and the high mountains, a magical background from traditional Indian tales, and deliciously detailed description of Indian foods. Honesty, loyalty, and compassion are the virtues demanded by the Healers; Anand's actions show that he has all three. Readers can sympathize with his struggles and long for his success. This traditional story in fresh new clothing should appeal to middle graders.
ABOUT THE BOOK
The story of The Conch Bearer begins on the teeming streets of modern-day Kolkata, India, where twelve-year-old Anand lives in a dingy shack with his mother and sister, Meera. Anand is captivated by stories of magic and the opportunities he believes it could create -- if only magic was a reality. However, everything begins to change when Anand meets Abadhyatta, a mysterious man who turns out to be a member of the magical Brotherhood of Healers. Abadhyatta recognizes something special in the boy and entrusts him with a conch shell that possesses mystical powers. Anand's task is to return the shell to its rightful home with the Brotherhood many hundreds of miles away -- across arid plains and turbulent rivers, past powerful spirits and fantastical creatures, and finally into the secret Silver Valley, high in the Himalayas. Accompanying them is Nisha, a headstrong but resourceful child of the streets. What follows is a series of quests and battles against the dark and powerful forces of evil-minded Surabhanu, who was exiled from the Brotherhood years before. Though Anand experiences doubt, fear, and sadness throughout his journey, his unrelenting desire to achieve his mission is stronger than the evil he is confronted with. Anand's quest will take him farther from home than he has ever been and will teach him more than he has ever imagined. When he finally reaches the gates of the Silver Valley, Anand faces the greatest challenge of all -- the decision to either return home to his loving family or to become an important citizen in the world of magic.
The Lonely Planet World Guide says of India: "Nothing in the country is ever quite predictable; the only thing to expect is the unexpected." Ask students to use books in the library or sites on the Internet to find a brief description of India. Then have them write an interpretation of the above quote. Why is India a perfect setting for a work of fantasy?
Anand wishes for a magic apple to make Meera better, and to bring his father home. His mother reminds him that magic only occurs in storybooks. Discuss what Anand learns about magic as the story unfolds. How does magic help Meera at the beginning of the story? How is Anand indirectly responsible for Meera's healing? Does his mother's attitude toward magic change after Abhaydatta's visit? How? In what ways does magic help Anand on his quest? Discuss the limitations of magic and its relationship wish wisdom, understanding, and courage. Which of these gifts proves to be the most important to Anand on his journey?
Family and family life are very important in India. How does Anand's feelings for his family almost keep him from going with Abhaydatta? Why does his mother allow him to go? Debate whether his mother expects him to return. Discuss the decision to leave his family for the Brotherhood at the end of the novel. Explain how the Brotherhood of Healers becomes a family to Anand and Nisha.
Anand is working at the tea stall when he first notices Abhaydatta. What draws his attention to the old man? How does Abhaydatta know that Anand has the desire to enter the secret domain of the world of magic? Discuss the role of the conch in leading Abhaydatta to Anand.
Discuss the relationship between courage and fear. What gives Anand the courage to go on the journey with Abhaydatta? At what point does he doubt his decision? How do his doubts feed his fear? Discuss Anand's most fearful moments. What gives him the courage to fight the evil forces and continue his journey?
Why is Abhaydatta willing to take Nisha, the sweeper-girl along? Discuss her role in the story. What is she searching for? How is she a sidekick to Anand? There are times when Anand is jealous of the girl. When does he experience the most jealousy? How does he reconcile his jealousy?
Abhaydatta gives Anand the conch to carry. Why doesn't Abhaydatta want Nisha to know about the conch? Debate Anand's decision to disobey Abhaydatta and tell Nisha that he is carrying the conch. What is Nisha's reaction when she sees it? How does this reveal the difference between the two children, and their individual contributions to the mission?
How does Abhaydatta prepare the children for the danger that he is certain will come upon them? Why does he tell Anand and Nisha the Tale of the One-Eyed Deer?
Anand and Nisha encounter the evil forces of Surabhanu, a former member of the Brotherhood who wants possession of the conch. How does Anand deal with the evil powers? Explain the conch's message: "It's a wise fool who knows his own folly."
Describe Anand's feelings when he discovers that Nisha has been admitted to the Brotherhood. Discuss what Abhaydatta means when he tells Anand, "We cannot choose you until you have made a choice yourself."
Discuss Anand's choice to remain in the Silver Valley. What contributes to his final decision? Why does the Brotherhood make him the Keeper of the Conch?
Anand's journey to the Silver Valley reveals important messages about trust, love, and power. How do these messages apply to real life?
Why is Anand the Brotherhood's only hope? How is the Brotherhood Nisha's only hope? What other elements of hope are in the story?
RESEARCH & ACTIVITIES
It is a custom in India for an astrologer to write down a baby's Zodiac sign at birth and to make statements regarding the baby's future. Study the characteristics of each sign of the Zodiac, and determine which sign best characterizes Anand. Write the predictions that the astrologer might have written about Anand on the day of his birth.
Anand is fond of Persian fairy tales. Read several different Persian tales and select one that Anand might share with Nisha. Simplify and illustrate the story.
There are many truths and messages in fantasy. Think about what Anand learns about power, and write a letter of advice to the president of the United States or any world leader.
Anand's final test for entrance into the Silver Valley is to answer the following question: Which of these three virtues are the most important: honesty, loyalty, or compassion. Write an essay that explains the relationship between these three virtues.
The Healers in the Brotherhood have different jobs and responsibilities. For example, there are Herbalist Healers and Shape-Changing Healers. Make a list of the various Healers, and write a job description for each.
The Council meets to discuss Nisha because there has never been a woman in the Brotherhood. Conduct a mock Council meeting that deals with Nisha's admission to the Brotherhood.
This reading group guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Guide prepared by Pat Scales, Director of Library Services, SC Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities, Greenville.
Posted March 19, 2010
The Conch Bearer
Somdata, the head of the Brotherhood, a mystical group in India who worship the Conch, confirmed Anand's powers to him, and the other members of the Brotherhood, in a meeting when he said,
"Amongst all of us in the Brotherhood who have been blessed with gifts, you have a unique one. We meditate on the Conch and draw our strength from it, but you have spoken to it. And more importantly, it has spoken to you."
Anand is a poor twelve-year-old boy from Kolkata, India. Although brave and able to talk to the magical Conch, Anand doubts himself. He travels with the conch to the Silver Valley, hundreds of miles away, through a mountain range and a river to the gate of this magical place where it is always Spring. On his journey he meets many obstacles and demons try to take the Conch from him.
This is a story about a boy making some very hard choices and personal decisions. Anand does all this to protect the Conch and bring it back to its rightful place in the Silver Valley. Until he gets this challenge to take the Conch to its home with the Brotherhood, he does not feel like he has a purpose in Kolkata.
The Conch Bearer is a very emotional, vivid and exciting book. I recommend it to anyone who wants to read about an amazing journey of courage and adventure.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
In America, it is difficult to find good fiction about India for middle grade readers that are neither to baby-ish (picture books) nor too adult (arranged marriage). This book is one of the few that is great for a wide range of readers, including adults who may enjoy young adult fantasy. The books moves along quickly and is fun to read.
The Conch Bearer has many classic elements of childrens' fantasy: an absent parent, longing for magic in the every day, an ardous journey, a treasured and powerful magical object, learning to trust new friends, a discovery of hidden abilities, a secret world, just out of sight. This book is not particularily orginal in those respects. What makes this book different is its setting: India. The author incorporates elements of modern day urban street life in Kolkatta (Calcutta). Poverty, orphaned children, open markets, the sights and smells of the streets are party of the story backgrounds, but luckily, we don't get mired in this. We also see the varied topography of India (inlcuding the Himalayas) as the main characters are entrusted with their task and struggle on their journey.
All in all a fun, fantasy read for fans of the genre with a different setting. It is a great book to share as family if you are making a trip to India as it is appropriate for ages 7 and up.
Posted February 1, 2009
As a young reader,like 10 of age, this book took me a bit to start but once getting to know the characters I found myself reading page after page. It was intriging trying to figure out who was the enemy. boy was I in for a surprise to discover it would be someone else. I do recommend this book to mystery,magic and adventure seekers!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 27, 2008
I LOVED this book. It was full of magic and suspense and even had a usefull moral at the end of the book. It was great! Don't forget to read its sequel, 'The Mirror of Fire and Dreaming!' Both are real page turners.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 24, 2006
Posted January 10, 2004
I found the book to be too similar to the Lord of the Rings story. even the name of the villian is Surabhanu, so similar to Saruman. and the paragraph where it mentions the old man showing Anand, the conch shell the first time. The way in which it was written and the magnetism that the conch emanated seemed to be too similar to the magnetism emanated by the Ring for Frodo Baggins, Smeagol and the others. Expected something more original from Ms.Divakaruni !!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 11, 2003
This lady goes to my church in Houston, TX. She was selling the book there and I got her autograph and the book. IT is a good suspenseful book that you can't put down. You should read it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 9, 2009
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Posted April 17, 2010
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Posted March 26, 2009
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Posted July 16, 2011
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