A Time of Miracles [NOOK Book]

Overview

Winner of the Batchelder Award--this tale of of exile, sacrifice, hope, and survival is a story of ultimate love.

Blaise Fortune, also known as Koumaïl, loves hearing the story of how he came to live with Gloria in the Republic of Georgia: Gloria was picking peaches in her father’s orchard when she heard a train derail. After running to the site of the accident, she found an...
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A Time of Miracles

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Overview

Winner of the Batchelder Award--this tale of of exile, sacrifice, hope, and survival is a story of ultimate love.

Blaise Fortune, also known as Koumaïl, loves hearing the story of how he came to live with Gloria in the Republic of Georgia: Gloria was picking peaches in her father’s orchard when she heard a train derail. After running to the site of the accident, she found an injured woman who asked Gloria to take her baby. The woman, Gloria claims, was French, and the baby was Blaise.
 
When Blaise turns seven years old, the Soviet Union collapses and Gloria decides that she and Blaise must flee the political troubles and civil unrest in Georgia. The two make their way westward on foot, heading toward France, where Gloria says they will find safe haven. But what exactly is the truth about Blaise’s past?
Bits and pieces are revealed as he and Gloria endure a five-year journey across the Caucasus and Europe, weathering hardships and welcoming unforgettable encounters with other refugees searching for a better life. During this time Blaise grows from a boy into an adolescent; but only later, as a young man, can he finally attempt to untangle his identity.
 
Bondoux’s heartbreaking tale of exile, sacrifice, hope, and survival is a story of ultimate love.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—Blaise Fortune has gone by the name Koumaïl for most of his life with Gloria in the war-torn Republic of Georgia. Although he loves her like a mother, he enjoys hearing the story of how she rescued him from a train that had derailed and his French mother, a passenger, died, and he dreams of the day he will find his real family. When the Soviet Union collapses, Gloria and Koumaïl begin a long, perilous journey to France where she believes he can live the life he deserves, without the stress and strife of war. Readers follow them through refugee camps, alternating between times of more peaceful hardship and periods of danger and flight. When Gloria tells Koumaïl to hide in a truck, he makes it to France but she is left behind. As he grows from a child into an adolescent, Koumaïl begins to wonder more about his true identity, and the novel culminates nine years later with a heartbreaking realization. The story is written in beautiful, quiet prose and offers a touch of hope, along with tragedy. The characters and story are well formed, but young people unfamiliar with the circumstances of life behind the Iron Curtain and the collapse of the Soviet Union might be confused as much of the conflict and political situation isn't explained until near the end of the book. However, those who stay with it will be rewarded with an exceptional story.—Sharon Senser McKellar, Oakland Public Library, CA
Publishers Weekly
"There's nothing wrong with making up stories to make life more bearable," says Gloria, the wise woman who is the soul of Bondoux's (The Killer's Tears) beautifully nuanced novel. As she and seven-year-old Koumaïl flee the Republic of Georgia to escape uprisings and fighting during the Soviet Union's collapse, Gloria soothes the boy with the story of his past. She says she rescued him from a train wreck near her family's orchard after his badly injured mother "begged me with her eyes, and I understood what she expected of me." His real name, she says, is Blaise Fortune and he was born in France, where he and Gloria are headed. The two make a perilous, five-year journey westward through war-torn territory, encountering a memorable entourage of fellow refugees with poignant stories of their own. Continuously embellishing Blaise's life story, Gloria keeps hope alive for the boy, believing it is the "one and only remedy against despair." Years after their sudden, wrenching separation, a reunion brings to light the final, heartrending version of Blaise's past. Though Blaise narrates this splendidly translated novel, Gloria's voice will long resonate. Ages 12–up. (Nov.)
From the Publisher
"A refugee boy and his mother flee Georgia in 1989 and travel alone through the Caucasus for eight years to reach France. Koumaïl has always lived with Gloria, who tells him stories of rescuing him from a bombed train and stealing passports from his dead French mother. As civil war engulfs the Caucasus, they escape, moving from one refugee camp to the next, suffering hunger and illness. Along the way, Koumaïl makes friends and finds first love, supported by Gloria, who calls him her "little miracle," promises "tomorrow life will be better" and reminds him to "be happy... at all times." When they arrive in France, Gloria vanishes, leaving Koumaïl to survive alone to become a real French citizen. Koumaïl tells his story "in the right order," from the perspective of a 20-year-old refugee who ultimately discovers his true identity and that of the optimistic, resourceful woman who made "up stories to make life more bearable." A beautifully cadenced tribute to maternal love and the power of stories amid contemporary political chaos."
-Kirkus Reviews, starred

"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

Children's Literature - Barbara L. Talcroft
Blaise Fortune—citizen of France—is telling his story, now that he's grown up. It starts when he was seven, living in the Republic of Georgia with other refugees fleeing as the Soviet Union dissolves. Life is uncertain, but Blaise (or Koumail, his Georgian name) has Gloria to love him and keep him safe. Her story says that she rescued him as a baby when his French mother died in a train explosion near Gloria's farm. Now they are on their way to France to make a new life; after all, Blaise is French, isn't he? Their extraordinary journey takes years, as they move slowly westward, mostly on foot, encountering other refugees, overcoming heart-stopping obstacles, and receiving help from local residents, including a restaurant cook and a Chinese forger. Most of their experiences will be hard for American teens even to imagine; one of the worst is digging through a huge hill of toxic debris for nickel wires that can be salvaged. Bondoux is sparing with words and scenes, yet deftly reveals tantalizing bits of the past as the travelers trudge through Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, Hungary, and Germany. In Romania, with Gloria desperately ill, they are taken in and cared for by a band of gypsies. Will they make it to France? This novel of love, determination, and the power of stories is almost heartbreakingly poignant, especially when Blaise, as a young adult, finds Gloria after years of separation and learns her true story. Readers may want to whisper with him, "Deep down, I think I always knew it." Bondoux, an award-winning author in her native France, is well served here by translator Maudet. Reviewer: Barbara L. Talcroft
Kirkus Reviews
A refugee boy and his mother flee Georgia in 1989 and travel alone through the Caucasus for eight years to reach France. Koumaïl has always lived with Gloria, who tells him stories of rescuing him from a bombed train and stealing passports from his dead French mother. As civil war engulfs the Caucasus, they escape, moving from one refugee camp to the next, suffering hunger and illness. Along the way, Koumaïl makes friends and finds first love, supported by Gloria, who calls him her "little miracle," promises "tomorrow life will be better" and reminds him to "be happy... at all times." When they arrive in France, Gloria vanishes, leaving Koumaïl to survive alone to become a real French citizen. Koumaïl tells his story "in the right order," from the perspective of a 20-year-old refugee who ultimately discovers his true identity and that of the optimistic, resourceful woman who made "up stories to make life more bearable." Abeautifully cadenced tribute to maternal love and the power of stories amid contemporary political chaos. (Historical fiction. 12 & up)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375897269
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 11/9/2010
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 377,193
  • Age range: 12 years
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Anne-Laure Bondoux has received numerous literary prizes in her native France. Among her previous books published by Delacorte Press is The Killer’s Tears, which received the prestigious Prix Sorcières in France and was a Mildred L. Batchelder Honor Book in the United States.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

My name is Blaise Fortune and I am a citizen of the French Republic. It's the pure and simple truth.

I was almost twelve years old the day the customs officers found me in the back of the truck. I stank as badly as the garbage shed where Abdelmalik slept, and all I was able to say was "Mynameisblaisefortuneandiamacitizenofthefrenchrepublicitsthepureandsimpletruth."

I had lost nearly all of my precious belongings along the way. Fortunately, I still had my passport; Gloria had made sure to stick it deep in my jacket pocket when we were at the service station. My passport proved that I was born on December 28, 1985, at Mont-Saint-Michel, on the French side of the English Channel, per page 16 of the green atlas. It was written in black and white. The problem was my photo: it had been removed, then glued back, and even though Mr. Ha had faked the official seal with the greatest care, the customs officers didn't believe that I was really a French boy. I wanted to explain my story to them, but I didn't have the vocabulary. So they pulled me out of the truck by the neck of my sweater and took me away.

This is how my childhood ended: brutally, on the side of a highway, when I realized that Gloria had disappeared and that I would have to cope without her in the country known for human rights and for the poetry of Charles Baudelaire.

After that I spent countless days in a triage zone, then in a shelter. France was just a succession of walls, fences, and doors. I slept in dormitories that reminded me of the Matachine's attic, except that there was no dormer window to watch the stars through. I was alone in the world. But I couldn't let despair eat away at my soul. More so than ever, I had to go to Mont-Saint-Michel to find my mother! It was easy to explain it all, but I didn't know the language. I couldn't give details about the Terrible Accident or the hazards of life that had brought me here. And when you can't express yourself, it's like dying of suffocation.

Things are different today. Many years have gone by, and now I can name everything; I can conjugate verbs, use adjectives and conjunctions. I have a new passport in my pocket--all in good order, as required by the laws of the world.

Not long ago I received a letter from the French Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia, saying that they might have tracked down Gloria. That's why I'm sitting at a Charles de Gaulle Airport gate with a suitcase, a heart that beats madly, and the crazy hope that I will see Gloria again. But, before anything else, I must put my thoughts in order.

Let me begin: My name is Blaise Fortune. I am a citizen of the French Republic, even though I spent the first eleven years of my life in the Caucasus, a vast region located between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, per page 78 of the green atlas. At the time I spoke Russian and people called me Koumail. It might seem strange, but it's easy to understand. I just have to tell my story. All of it. And in the right order.


Chapter Two

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?"

"OK."

From the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2013

    Beautiful, captivating story

    Beautifully written with characters that you love. The story is intriguing and leaves you feeling at peace. I truly enjoyed this story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 6, 2011

    Amazing yet sad story

    I loved this story sooo much i was scared to read it cuz ik i would nv put it down MUST READ THIS!!!!!!!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 14, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Cinnamon for TeensReadToo

    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.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2011

    $18? Reallly?!

    This book looks amazing, but you can get it used on Amazon for $4. Come on B&N, this is getting ridiculous.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2011

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    Posted March 11, 2012

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