________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 21 . . . . June 8, 2007


The Song of Kahunsha.

Anosh Irani.
Toronto, ON: Anchor Canada/Random House of Canada, 2006.
311 pp., pbk., $19.95.
ISBN 978-0-385-66229-1.

Subject Heading:
Bombay Riots, Bombay, India, 1992-1993-Fiction.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Geneviève M.Y. Valleau.

*** /4


He knows that he has to leave the orphanage before it leaves him. He rises from his bed and looks around. In the dimness of the small light bulb that hangs in a corner of the sleeping room, he tiptoes to the foyer, stepping on the children’s rubber chappals, until he reaches the main door of the orphanage. He carefully slides the latch open so that no one else wakes up. The latch creaks a little, but he tells himself that on a night such as this a creak makes no difference at all. He opens the door, steps into the night, and walks straight towards the row of bougainvilleas. In the dark, he cannot see colours. But he uses his mind to light the petals up, and after a moment he begins to see shades of pink and red. He likes this, how the colours stand apart from the darkness.

Ten-year-old Chamdi is a Bombay orphan, and after he hears the news that the orphanage that he has lived in his whole life is going to be shut down, he decides to leave the comforts of his home to live in the city. But, Bombay is not what he expected. Although he was told of the atrocities and domestic fights that occur all over the city, Chamdi believes that Bombay will eventually become a paradise he calls Kahunsha, “the city of no sadness.” Instead, he learns firsthand about the harshness of the streets of Bombay and just how violent and corrupt the city is. Although he does make two good friends on the streets, his vision of Kahunsha is shattered and Chamdi is changed.

     Like the 1988 movie Salaam Bombay, directed by Mira Nair, Irani’s novel demonstrates, through the eyes of an orphan boy, that the city of Bombay has become a dystopia. Although the main character is an optimistic boy who dreams in vibrant colours and believes in the goodness of the people around him, he is forced to realize that the world outside of his orphanage is not what he thought. The brutality of the city causes Chamdi to grow up very fast, and he loses his childhood innocence.

     One of CBC Radio’s Canada Reads 2007 Selections, Irani’s novel is both beautiful and heartbreaking. His writing is gripping and sweeps readers into this sad story quickly. Readers cannot help but feel a multitude of emotions as they travel with Chamdi on his journey from innocence to experience.

     Although Chamdi is 10-years-old, Irani’s novel has been written for adults. That said, this novel would have an impact on a YA audience. Because of the sorrow, roughness and violence of the novel, this book would be best for a young adult of at least age 15. It would also work well in a study with Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.


Geneviève M.Y. Valleau has a Master’s of Arts in Children’s Literature from the University of British Columbia.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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