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"An exceptional story."--School Library Journal, starred
"[A] beautifully nuanced novel."--Publishers Weekly, starred
"Readers will find themselves mesmerized not only by the eloquent language but by a plot every bit as harrowing and surprising as Koumail's cherished bedtime story."--The Horn Book Magazine, starred
My oldest memories date back to 1992, when Gloria and I lived in the Complex with other refugee families. I don't remember the name of the town. I am nearly seven. It is winter, and we no longer have electricity or heat because of the war.
There is a smell of laundry mingled with that of vinegar.
Women are gathered in the center of the courtyard, around a huge iron vat set above blazing logs. The skin on their bare arms is red up to the elbows. They speak and laugh loudly. As the laundry boils in the scum of our dirt, a cloud of steam rises, leaving a thick condensation on the windowpanes of the floors above.
Farther away, under the canopy, creepy Sergei sharpens his razor. Schlick, schlick, schlick.
He calls us over, one by one.
"You! Come here!" he hollers.
Creepy Sergei doesn't know our names. There are too many kids in the Complex, and he drinks so heavily that his memory is completely shot. He just yells, "You," as he points his razor at one of us. Nobody dares disobey him, because we're terrified of his upturned eye and his flattened nose.
Before becoming a barber, creepy Sergei was a boxer, the best one in town, or so they say. But everything changed the day a high-strung Armenian knocked him out cold. It was before the war. According to Gloria, on that day Sergei had a brush with death. That makes him special now, and he deserves our respect. So when he points his razor at me, I dash under the canopy.
I sit on the three-legged stool, my back turned to him, my heart beating madly, and I lean my head back. Sergei's razor cuts across my scalp, his strokes methodical, until all my hair falls to the ground. Then creepy Sergei dips a towel in a barrel of vinegar and rubs my head with it. My scalp stings. I whine. He pushes me from the stool.
"Go see your mother, little brat!" he says.
I stand up, my head shorn and filled with a vague pain, and I rush to snuggle in Gloria's arms. She's not my mother, but she's all I have.
"Beautiful!" she exclaims as she runs her soapy hands over my skull.
I look up at her and she bends down to kiss my cheek. "You're truly magnificent, Monsieur Blaise," she adds.
I smile through my tears. I love it when she calls me "Mr. Blaise" in French, because no one else can understand.
"Now go and play, Koumail," she says loudly. "You can see I'm busy!"
I dry my eyes and run off to join the group of shaved kids who are playing in the courtyard.
The laundry, the laughter, the razor, the vinegar . . . that's how we wage war against lice, fleas, and all forms of parasites--including, according to Gloria, the most feared parasite of all, despair. Despair, she says, is more dangerous and more clever than the Armenian who knocked out Sergei. It is invisible and slips into everything. If you don't fight against it, it nibbles at your soul. But how do you know you've caught a despair if you can't even see it? I wonder. What do you do if even the razor can't get rid of it? Gloria holds me tight against her chest when I ask her about this. She explains that she has a cure.
"As long as you stay close to me, nothing bad will happen to you, OK?"
From the Hardcover edition.
Posted January 30, 2013
Beautifully written with characters that you love. The story is intriguing and leaves you feeling at peace. I truly enjoyed this story.
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Posted September 6, 2011
Posted June 14, 2011
Koumail knows exactly who he is: Blaise Fortune, indisputable and abandoned-through-a-train-accident French boy. Even as the seven-year-old flees the collapsing Soviet Union with Gloria, his beloved mother figure, Koumail knows that there will always be a safe haven for the faux mother-son duo in France. It turns out to be a journey fraught with hard work and starvation, doubt and heartbreak. Through it all, Koumail merely has to recite one sentence - just one - to make sure he still has the strength to continue. "My name is Blaise Fortune and I am a citizen of the French Republic." It's the pure and simple truth. Or is it? Wow, A TIME OF MIRACLES is a little 200+ page novel that packs quite a punch. Translated from French, this story is told as an extended flashback laced with intricate details and told in flowing prose. Originally, the synopsis failed to impress me, and I started this book with a feeling of dread, often reminding myself of the fact that I could simply write a scathing review to vent my feelings afterward. Well, I apologize profusely to this book. To put it simply: I was blown away. This is just a simple story of a boy and a woman, escaping oppression and searching for freedom. And yet it was also emotional and gripping all at once. Ms. Bondoux definitely succeeded in drawing out this reader's sympathy for the two characters. And Koumail, oh Koumail - funny, sweet, and fiercely protective of Gloria. It isn't possible for someone to not like this little boy. He entertains with his antics, his blind faith, and the three true loves he meets on their short journey. Even while Koumail's begging in front of a random restaurant in the icy coldness, he's still alight with hope. A TIME OF MIRACLES is a surprisingly moving historical novel. It is one of those books you close with a quiet sigh.
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Posted June 13, 2011
Posted August 14, 2011
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Posted March 11, 2012
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