A palace, a jewel thief and a daring escape! These are the main ingredients of Waterstones’ Children’s Book of the Month: ‘The Girl Who Stoke an Elephant’ – debut novel of Nizrana Farook. Make sure you read to the bottom of the post to find this blog’s treasure hunt clue!
Chaya doesn’t fit with her village’s expectations of how a girl her age should be behaving. She’s outspoken, headstrong and …. a jewel thief. Angered by the inequality she sees between the rich and the poor, Chaya takes the law into her own hands and literally ‘steals from the rich to give to the poor.’ It’s this belief which leads Chaya to stage her most audacious crime yet – the theft of the Queen’s precious jewels from the palace.
Unfortunately, things don’t go quite as planned. Chaya has to break out a friend from jail, escape on the back of the King’s very own elephant and lead her friends on a perilous escape mission through the leech-infested jungle where revolution is stirring.
Wonderfully written with unrelenting pace and descriptions which will have you dripping with sweat and picking off leaches along with the characters. Lush, exotic – a gem of a book! 9+
I was able to pose some questions about the book to its author – Nizrana Farook. Here’s what she had to say:
1. What inspired you to have your main character, schoolgirl Chaya, become a jewel thief?
I wanted her to be really bold and fearless. And what better way than have her steal the queen’s jewels from the royal palace! It wasn’t something I had to give a lot of thought to, it just came to me as I wrote that first scene as it’s just such a Chaya thing to do. And I think in a way the setting also demanded it.
2. Chaya’s upbringing is far from conventional in the village she lives in. Why is this important to the story?
She’s a change-maker in that world, so I needed her to be different from the norm. She stands out, carves her own path. Being a thief is one of the big ways that she’s unconventional, so in her day to day life it’s logical that she’s the same in lots of small ways. She needs the space to be that way, hence the lack of a mother and an overindulgent (in her aunty’s eyes) father.
3. The story settings are so richly imagined I could picture myself there with the characters. How did your own childhood in Sri Lanka influence these?
I grew up in a city so life was different to Chaya’s. But I’ve drawn on my experience of community and family that we have in common. That sense that everyone is responsible for the needs of the other and no one is completely alone. The physical setting itself is a mixture of the real and imagined in Sri Lanka. I love visiting historical places and ruins and imagining what they must have looked like in their heyday. I combined this with real places and got the world of Serendib.
4. There’s a very strong sense of social justice running through the story (robbing the rich to help the poor.) Why did you decide to do this?
I think it was the state of the world generally when I was writing. It felt important to be conscious of the fact that looks can be deceiving; that even in very beautiful surroundings you could have terrible inequality and injustice if you look beneath the surface. That it’s everywhere really. And I wanted a heroine who’s bothered by that.
5. Are the fried sweets from Nour’s house as delicious as they sound? Did you have a particular type in mind?
I don’t even know if it has a name! I remember that sweet from a long time ago being made in my home and I put it in the book. But in a large extended family it’s hard to trace certain things so I have no idea really. Nour is a bit exotic to me too, so I’m a stranger to her food like Chaya and Neel are. But yes that fried sweet was delicious.
6. Congratulations on ‘The Girl Who Stole an Elephant’ being Waterstones’ Children’s Book of the Month for January! How did it feel when you found out?
It was surreal. It wasn’t even completely out of the blue as I knew my publisher was hoping for it, so I had a little dream too. But I don’t think I believed that it would ACTUALLY happen. It was a shock, a very pleasant one, when they called to tell me. It felt too big, too good! I was sworn to secrecy and I took it literally and didn’t tell anyone, not even my family. I only told one writing friend about a week later, and no one else. My husband heard from a bookseller!
Wow! What a huge secret to have to keep! Thank you so much to Nizrana for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope you’ve all now been inspired to go out and get yourself a copy of her book.
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