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Updated: May 4, 2013 15:49 IST

Delightfully told

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The Lilliputans. Author: Kirsty Murray
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The Lilliputans. Author: Kirsty Murray

A touching tale with characters you can identify with.

Kirsty Murray’s award-winning The Lilliputians is a deeply captivating book. Based on a true life story, it’s a gripping saga of an Australian theatre troupe of young performers who tour Asia and across several continents in the 20th century. It portrays their adventure, intrigues and friendships and a scandal when the group refuses to travel back with their manager.

“Maybe everyone’s life pivots when they’re 13 years old. In 1909, mine began to swing in a wide arc, away from the glass house, away from Chooky and Mumma and Yada. It pivoted the moment Tilly Sweetrick came walking along our back lane.”

Lured by the thought of fame and fortune, and the fascinating possibilities, 13-year-old Poesy Swift sets out on an adventurous travel journey with the other Lilliputians.

The other artists too believe in their dreams, ambitions, yearnings and longings, quite unaware of the darkness and uncertainty that awaits them, as Arthur Percival their manager and musical director of the Lilliputian Opera Company, turns violent.

Arthur is a large, terrifying figure, a tin-pot Hitler, who is frightening to the children under his control yet slightly pathetic in his need to maintain power over them.

As time goes by, underlying relationships really start to develop to the next level. But not all are positive. Torn between horror and helplessness, the children plan to outwit Arthur whom they nickname “butcher”.

The turning point occurs when Poesy and Tilly are caught in a scandal that changes their lives. What follows is a series of events that leads them to depths of disaster. But by the end, they mature and find the strength to leave behind the final stages of childhood and overcome the crisis.

The story is both entertaining and touching and the reader can identify with the travails and torture of these young children.

Murray’s words are elegant and precise, with a wonderful sense for cadences. Delightful turn of phrases, the ironic wit and keen insights ensure that there is no dull moment.

What really pulled me in were the characters, especially Poesy Swift and Matilda Sweeney, and their zest for adventure. They kind of leapt off every page and drew me into their struggles.

With every twist and every unexpected turn, I just couldn’t stop wanting something better for all the children. The other characters — Charlie, Lionel, Daisy, Lizzy — exhibit the same uncertainties and self-deprecations found in most teens. Murray is truly a master of her craft.

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