The Conch Bearer (Brotherhood of the Conch Series #1)

( 11 )


In a dingy shack in the less-than-desirable Indian neighborhood he calls home, twelve-year-old Anand is entrusted with a conch shell that possesses mystical powers. His task is to return the shell to its rightful home many hundreds of miles away. Accompanying him are Nisha, a headstrong but resourceful child of the streets, and a mysterious man of indeterminate age and surprising resources named Abadhyatta. His quest will take him farther from home than he's ever been and will teach him more than he ever imagined...

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In a dingy shack in the less-than-desirable Indian neighborhood he calls home, twelve-year-old Anand is entrusted with a conch shell that possesses mystical powers. His task is to return the shell to its rightful home many hundreds of miles away. Accompanying him are Nisha, a headstrong but resourceful child of the streets, and a mysterious man of indeterminate age and surprising resources named Abadhyatta. His quest will take him farther from home than he's ever been and will teach him more than he ever imagined — and it will force him to make a poignant decision that will change him forever.

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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This book is a real'll stay up late to finish it."
Chicago Tribune

"Young readers can only hope for more from this master storyteller."
Publishers Weekly, starred review

"The action is exciting, and the Indian setting makes this story new and different."
Washington Post

"Divakaruni [is] a gifted storyteller....Though [she] beguiles us with the sights and sounds of an exotic place, what she really does is make us feel at home."
Los Angeles Times

Publishers Weekly
A 12-year-old living in India offers a beggar his ration of tea and pooris and finds himself on a mission to return a sacred conch shell to a Himalayan community of Magic Healers. In a starred review, PW called this "an exotic novel in which fantasy threads intertwine with spiritual teachings. Young readers can only hope for more from this master storyteller." Ages 8-12. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
From a writer known for her poetry (Leaving Yuba City), and adult literary fiction (Sister of My Heart), comes this middle grade novel with an appealing child protagonist venturing out upon an improbable quest. Elements of young Anand's journey are linked to ancient Hindu mythologies and sacred geography. Readers who know this context will recognize many archetypes and symbols. The visitor who creates a feast out of minimal offerings of food, the conch itself, the rejection of a heaven-like place in favor of loyalty-each of these echoes themes from the epic poem-story, the "Mahabharata." Woven into the fabric of this fantasy tale are linked past and present in the muddle of then and now that is quintessential India. The strand of the father, missing since he left to take a job in the Gulf, connects this India to the world in a way that is both real and touching. In the same vein, Divakaruni renders contemporary urban Kolkata, with its street kids and tea stalls, in a manner that is both textured and affectionate. Despite the jacket text that extols the exotic flavor of this story, the really compelling places are those scenes that the reader can experience from very close to Anand's perspective, feeling both his unnamed fears and his longings left unfulfilled by circumstance. It is likely, therefore, that the story premise will feel familiar to a broad audience of readers, being the fairly classic tale of an unwilling and sometimes clueless hero growing into the significance of his destiny. Not all the obstacles on the journey are entirely convincing. The ape-creatures' pidgeon-like speech was a definite reading hiccup. The conflict of snake and mongoose felt a littleobvious. Admittedly, the latter might be a non-issue for young readers. It could well be more annoying to grownups jaded by the endless rehashings of Kipling that the market has favored us with over the years. On the whole, it is refreshing to see this particular mingling of old and new, real and magical, in the story container of a children's book. There are places in which the prose just sings, and in all, The Conch Bearer is worth revisiting. 2003, Roaring Brook Press, Ages 9 up.
— Uma Krishnaswami
Anand is a twelve-year-old boy living in Kolkata (Calcutta) with his mother and ill sister. Because his father is missing, Anand must work to help take care of his family. A strange old man finds Anand and tells him about the Silver Valley and its inhabitants-the Brotherhood of Healers and the magical conch that helps them. He explains that the conch has been stolen and used for evil purposes and that it must be returned to its rightful place. Anand has been chosen as the Conch Bearer, and he goes with the old man to return the conch. Along the way, they are joined by a Nisha, a street urchin. The plot of this novel has many of the standard fantasy elements: the young boy chosen for an important role as seen in The Giver; a missing father as in A Wrinkle in Time; meeting with a girl to embark on a quest through peril and magic as in The Silver Chair, and battling an evil force that can disguise itself such as seen in the Harry Potter series and other books. The unique setting is what sets this novel apart from other fantasy stories, and the quality of the writing is above average. Even that, however, might not be enough to hold some readers who have traveled this fantasy road before. VOYA CODES: 3Q 2P M J (Readable without serious defects; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2003, Roaring Brook, 272p., and PLB Ages 11 to 15.
—Alice Stern
School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-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.-Kathleen Isaacs, Edmund Burke School, Washington, DC Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Pakoras instead of stew. A stock quest fantasy stars Anand, a 12-year-old who has worked at a Kolkata (Calcutta) tea stall since his father disappeared two years ago. A moment of kindness to a hungry old man is rewarded when-surprise-the oldster is revealed as Abhaydatta, a powerful mage requesting Anand's help on a dangerous mission. Abhaydatta's magical conch is sought by the wicked wizard Surabhanu, and Anand must take the conch safely to the Silver Valley. Joined by the savvy street-sweeping girl Nisha, the adventurers begin their journey across a modern yet fantastical India. To defeat Surabhanu, they must vanquish the usual foes: megalomaniac villains, frightening monsters, and the weaknesses of their own hearts. A rather bland tale, but the unusual setting might be intriguing spice for lovers of the genre. (Fiction. 10-13)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780689872426
  • Publisher: Aladdin
  • Publication date: 2/22/2005
  • Series: Brotherhood of the Conch Series, #1
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 288,683
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.12 (w) x 7.62 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is the award-winning author of many books, including The Mistress of Spices, Sister of My Heart, and One Amazing Thing. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New York Times. Born in India, she currently lives in Texas and teaches in the nationally ranked Creative Writing program at the University of Houston.

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    1. Hometown:
      Houston, Texas, and San Jose, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 29, 1956
    2. Place of Birth:
      Kolkata, India
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English, Kolkata University 1976; Ph.D. in English, University of California at Berkeley, 1984
    2. Website:

Reading Group Guide

An Aladdin Guide for Reading Groups
The Conch Bearer
By Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni


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?


• 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.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2010

    The Conch Bearer

    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.

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  • Posted May 10, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Middle Grade Fantasy meets India

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2009

    Exciting read for those seeking adventure and mystery

    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!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2008

    I couldn't put it down!

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2006


    Have you ever found a book that as soon as you pick it up, you can't put it back down? Well, this book is like that in all ways. This is a magical book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2004

    thought it would be interesting but

    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 !!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2003

    Balogna is cool.

    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.

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    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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