This story is told by Simbala. Simbala was raised in a village that has two treasures as named in the title of the story: the river and the book. Both these treasures become threatened by the exploitation of First World developers. For Simbala’s village, livelihood and survival are dependent on the river. It provides, food, irrigation and the means of transport. As foreign corporations colonise the country by financing large scale cotton farming, water levels drop due to irrigation and the quality of the water is compromised by the poisoning effects or insecticide runoff.
The second treasure, the Book, is the oracle of the village, it predicts futures and answers the important questions of the villagers. We are told that “inside the Book was written everything that had been, everything that was and everything that was to come” (p.16). Simbala, like her mother, grandmother and the women in her family before them, is the Keeper of the Book. When a foreign woman, Jane Watson, visits the village, she is warmly welcomed and spends time living in the village learning their way of life and the pattern of their days. Jane Watson, however, violates this trust in a devastating manner when she leaves the village and takes the Book with her. This event sets Simbala on a quest down the river to retrieve the Book.
The strength of this small novel is the powerful themes that are contained within the story. The themes of colonialism and its impact on indigenous cultures, Westernisation, human rights, theft, revenge, methods of activism and effecting change and healing are all explored within the novel. Some reviewers have commented on it’s lack of subtlety but this is appropriate for Middle School readers and is more than adequately compensated by Croggon’s beautiful use of language.
Endorsed by Amnesty International, this is a beautiful book that raises many issues for discussion and is worth considering for Middle School students.