CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 5 . . . . October 5, 2012
Outlaw in India, the fifth installment in Roy’s “Submarine Outlaw” series, continues the adventures of Alfred, who is sailing around the world in a submarine with his dog, Hollie, and a seagull named Seaweed. It is a stand-alone novel that can be enjoyed without reading the others, but reading the series in sequence shows the growth of Alfred as a character and the development of Roy’s themes of responsibility for oneself and for others.
The book opens with Alfred looking for a place to hide his submarine in the harbour of Kochi, located on the southwest coast of India. In an exciting opening sequence, Alfred is fired upon by the Indian navy, his sub is damaged and he loses his hearing. When Alfred reaches a safe hiding spot, he meets and befriends a young runaway. Radji helps him navigate through Kochi to get medical treatment for his ears and the supplies he needs to fix his sub. Alfred quickly discovers that Radji is an Untouchable, and he is appalled at both the way Radji is treated and the way he accepts this treatment. Radji stows away on the sub when Alfred leaves Kochi. Alfred is worried about taking responsibility for the boy, but he proves an invaluable assistant both in the sub and on land. The boys meet Melissa, an old British woman who has lived in India all her life. After a rocky beginning to the relationship, they end up travelling together across India to Varanasi so that Melissa can throw her brother’s ashes in the Ganges and Radji can bathe in the sacred waters and be forgiven of his sins.
Outlaw in India is an introduction to this ancient and complicated land, and Alfred is an ideal guide, curious, observant and open-minded. Roy gives readers vivid sensory descriptions of the cities and landscapes Alfred travels through. The people Alfred encounters prove the most interesting as he is exposed to the extremes of callousness and compassion. Radji proves to be a fascinating social litmus test since people either can or cannot overcome centuries of tradition to view him as a human being of value.
Readers will admire Alfred’s courage and his practical approach to problems. He may be competent beyond his years, but he is still believably a boy; he makes mistakes, sometimes serious ones. His journeys expand his understanding of humanity and test his notions of right and wrong. Roy uses characters to raise questions and challenge Alfred’s and the reader’s assumptions. The people Alfred meets are all rounded, complex individuals with reasons for what they do. Radji, in particular, is a complicated, sympathetic character. Alfred teaches him to play chess, and their games become an interesting symbol of their relationship. Roy explores notions of mentorship and the way people are transformed by their encounters with other people.
Outlaw in India is a much deeper book than it appears. The plot is full of incident and excitement with various levels of tension: will Alfred get caught and lose his submarine? Will he regain his hearing? Will Radji and the dog Hollie recover from snakebite? Will Radji be accused of theft? Can the British woman be trusted? The book can be read purely as an adventure in a foreign land, but readers will inevitably have their views of the world changed.
This fifth volume is the best “Submarine Outlaw” book yet. It’s a fast-paced, fun read with interesting themes that will appeal to boys and to anyone who likes travel and adventure.
Kim Aippersbach, a freelance editor and writer with three children, lives in Vancouver, BC.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.