12 year old Blaise Fortune, also known as Koumail, has been fleeing west across Eastern Europe with his guardian, Gloria, since he was 7. When the Soviet Union fell and the Caucasus states began to fight for their independence, Blaise and Gloria become two of thousands of war refugees scrabbling across a battle-scarred land in search of safety and a better life.
As they’ve traveled westward towards France, Gloria has told Blaise the story of his past many times: picking fruit in her father’s vast orchards in Georgia, Gloria heard the derailment of an express train; in her rush to help the vicitms, she discovered a French woman near death, clutching a baby; when the woman died, Gloria kept the baby, whom she called Koumail; and she made a promise to him to return him to the country of his birth. Along the way, Koumail and Gloria have endured hardships, hunger, the fear of being captured by the armies and the militias, but they have also met kind people willing to help them. When they finally reach the French border, Koumail and Gloria are separated and Koumail must face the French immigration authorities, and his new life, alone. In his search to create a new life for himself in France, Koumail finds his path eventually leading him back to the village in the Georgian countryside that Gloria once called home.
Award winning French novelist Anne-Laure Bondoux’s A Time of Miracles is a deceptively simple refugee story, told with an economy of style that is not sentimental or oversimplified but is powerful in its clarity and the directness of the child narrator’s voice. What could be overwhelming is presented in perfect balance: to be eye-opening, generating empathy for characters, but not frightening for younger readers. Koumail’s story is representative of the many real-life stories of children and adults whose lives are torn apart by armed conflicts around the world and Bondoux’s handling of the issues of identity, immigration, war, politics, and survival is both thought-provoking and ultimately hopeful.
- Posted by Cori