This is a magical book with stunning illustrations. Author Eddie Ayres is a musician and broadcaster who has travelled widely and taught music in Afghanistan. He believes we cannot live without music and, regardless of how noisy the hectic, modern world is, it is silent without music. Ronak Taher, an Iranian-Australian illustrator and film maker, has produced wonderful illustrations which cover entire pages in brilliant colours.
This evocative tale tells the story of Sonam, a young girl, growing up in Taliban-controlled Kabul, Afghanistan, where music is banned. One day, when she has been sent to work by her older brother, she hears an amazing sound and just has to find out what it is. She discovers an old man playing a rabab, an instrument like a lute.
The old man explains music is everywhere but you must feel it in your heart and he gives Sonam her own rabab, the one he played as a child. While she still has to work – selling chewing gum in the streets – she is no longer afraid of the gunfire and the harsh noises of the city. Like the old man, she feels the music through her body, and soul is nurtured by it.
Sadly, her brother hears her humming and forbids her to sing and takes away the instrument. Silence descends and Sonam is sad as she can no longer make or hear music. Then one day there is a new, angry sound – the roar of planes and bombs. But still, even in the cacophony of war, there is the silence of no music.
Wanting to find the music again, Sonam returns to the old man’s home but he is gone. On the withered trees there is a single pomegranate which she picks. Digging in her own garden, to plant the seeds for her own tree, she comes across the rabab. Her brother took it away and hid it to both keep it safe and to protect her.
Taking her instrument back to the old man’s house, Sonam sits and remembers him and his music. The silence begins to withdraw as she realises the music is within her and always will be. While on the surface a simple tale, the book rewards detailed consideration of the deeper meanings of the words and images. I highly recommend it.
Reviewed by Jan Kershaw
Rating out of 10: 10
Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Released: August 2018