Gorgeous, sublime, majestic... there are many superlatives for this wonderful, wonderful children's novel by Jasbinder Bilan. Written beautifully and simply, 'Tamarind and the Star of Ishta' sparkles like a polished jewel, and is as luminously clear as bright moonlight. Bilan has opened up imaginative spaces that just delight me and fill me with wonder. She is the absolute rising star of children's fiction, and deservedly so.
Tamarind is on her way to India, to her great ancestral home in the Himalayas, to see her extended family. This was the home of her mother, Chinty, although Tamarind never knew her mother as she died soon after she was born. Wanting to find out more about her, Tamarind uncovers secrets about her mother's past: a strange, old hut, a friendly monkey, a ring that lights up and a mysterious girl called Ishta who plays with her at night in the incredible, sprawling gardens....
This can't be Bilan's second book! This, for me, is a little masterpiece. In simple, polished prose she evokes such beauty, mystery and awe it is like opening a treasure chest (as the glorious cover so aptly tantalises). Bilan has a masterly ability to conjure magic -a distinct feeling of otherness, of myth and spirit - while still rooting the story in our earthly senses, with great heart too. Everything is luxuriant and sparkling - I could almost smell and taste this ancestral home to the degree that I really wish I could go there! I have been to India myself and this only reminds me that I really ought to revisit.
Tamarind is a wonderfully portrayed character too. Through her eyes and heart we become as much enamoured by everything as she does. The story is dream-like and dazzling, but also so utterly real in its depictions of loss, grief and family dynamics. How everything threads together is just stunningly done. I admire Bilan's writing immensely. I want every child to get the opportunity to read both this and 'Asha and the Spirit Bird'. I grew up on a diet of Alan Garner, Tolkien, CS Lewis but it is about time that children's fiction flourishes through the imaginative, Eastern-centric spaces Bilan presents us with. I cannot praise her enough!
Please go and read this! I absolutely adored it. One of the best books of 2020.