Special Feature: Review by a Middle School Student
It is the 1990s and civil unrest is spreading throughout the Caucuses. Blaise Fortune (aka Koumaïl), a homeless seven-year-old orphan, sets off on a difficult and passionate journey alongside Gloria, his devout caretaker, out of the Republic of Georgia towards the free land of France. Throughout Bondoux’s heart pounding story of sacrifice and survival, these two helpless mendicants depend upon each other to reach the Promised Land and, most importantly, learn to persevere through the power of love.
In this fictitious young adult novel, the two exiles struggle through times of poverty, exhaustion, and distress, while growing together in spirit and family. Koumaïl and Gloria both sacrifice their own desires and needs for each other’s wellbeing, but they never lose the hope they have of arriving in France, away from the troubling and dangerous political unrest and near the answers to Koumaïl’s past. On foot, the pair transition from one refugee camp to another, each time listening to intense and harsh stories and seeing the physical and emotional scars of other refugees. In one instance, one of the refugees explains, “They came into our house with Kalashnikovs. They shot my husband. Fatima saw him fall on his prayer rug. Ever since then, she refuses to open her eyes.” Gloria, the mother-like figure, nurtures and guides Koumaïl through these many refugee camps and the countless miles in between. In response to the great sadness surrounding Koumaïl’s life, she, as a nurturing mother would, soothed the young boy by whispering, “There’s nothing wrong with making up stories to make life more bearable.” She releases enigmatic bits and pieces of Koumaïl’s life, from their first meeting at the site of the train derailment to the story of his beautiful mother. With her different and calming stories, Gloria teaches Koumaïl to love with all his heart and to keep from “catching a despair.” This is the impetus that propels the two’s emotions and determinations and is what leads Koumaïl to decrypt his past later on in the storyline.
Bondoux beautifully illustrates the passionate and suspenseful journey across Europe while opening up the mind of a poor nomad who lays prey to the chaos in this world. In this riveting novel, love and hope are put on the line and the importance of family is strongly expressed. A young Koumaïl develops into an adolescent in a bloody world and, ultimately, learns the immense power of love.
This exceptional work of literature leaves readers nail-biting questions and allows them to distinguish for themselves their own paths and values. “Is there a difference between a lie and a made-up story?” Will you learn the foolproof remedy of despair? Learn for yourself in this powerful novel, A Time of Miracles.
Review by Mauro Schenone, 8th grade