by Antonia Michaelis
translated from the German by Anthea Bell
Never heard of Tiger Moon? I hadn't, either. After finding myself thoroughly frustrated by listening to glowing online reviews (only to find that I didn't agree with the reviewers' conclusions at all), I went to our local children's bookstore to see if the salespeople there could recommend anything I might enjoy. I specifically asked for something that was well written. One of the women working there handed me this book and said it was one of her favourites. I'd never even heard the title before, but after hearing what it was about, I was intrigued.
An Indian girl named Raka finds herself sold to Ahmed Mudhi, a wealthy merchant, to be his eighth wife. The problem is, she's not a virgin, and when Ahmed Mudhi finds out, he will surely kill her. Raka spends her remaining nights telling a story to a friendly eunuch named Lalit, a fairy tale about a young thief and his white tiger on a journey to rescue a princess from her demon captor. Fantasy and reality slowly intertwine to create a tale about heroes, courage, love, and the power of stories.
I have to admit, I was a little wary going into this one because it was a translation. I'd tried reading Cornelia Funke's Inkheart years ago, and couldn't really get into it. I thought that might be because of the translation. This book was translated by the same person, so you can understand my trepidation. But perhaps it was Funke's storytelling that wasn't for me, because I didn't have any problems with the language in Tiger Moon. It didn't feel like it hadn't been written in English in the first place. The writing was beautiful and very evocative, bringing India in the early 1900s to life. I felt so immersed in the setting... the smells, the sights, the sounds. Reading this book was almost like taking a trip to another time and place (and that hasn't happened to me for a while).
The pace was excellent. The book never dragged. I wasn't as interested in Raka and Lalit's story at first, but those bits were shorter and to the point. Raka's Scheherazade-like storytelling chapters were far more interesting. That was probably due to the characters. I loved the characters in this book. They were interesting, unique, and totally different from anything I've come across in YA fiction lately. My favourite character was probably Nitish, the sacred white tiger with the talking blue eyes. Many heroes have a white horse... but Farhad got to ride a great white cat. Nitish was Farhad's constant companion throughout their journey to rescue the princess, and his observations (and insecurities) about the world were delightfully entertaining.
I have to mention the book design here. It is a beautiful book, even in paperback. The girl on the cover accurately reflects the girl in the story (no whitewashing here). The inside pages are also very pretty. The page numbers are ornamented and are placed halfway down the page, and the section breaks are decorated with Indian-themed designs. So lovely!
There were some mature themes in Tiger Moon, such as virginity and sex, so this definitely falls squarely in the young adult category. This book might also not be for the squeamish, as there are some vivid descriptions of Hindu funeral rites and cremation. But, overall, it was a great story that was well written, with characters you won't soon forget, and with just enough unanswered questions to make you keep thinking about the story long after you've finished.
Overall: 4.8 out of 5