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Updated: March 5, 2012 20:28 IST

Book Worm: War and its aftermath

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Tamburlaine's Elephants
Tamburlaine's Elephants

A little bit of history. Far from your history books a young boy called Rusti tells an exciting tale.

Timurlane; Timur the Lame; Tamburlaine... a familiar name from our history textbooks. How would it feel to be transported to that distant time when the Mongol horde was terrorising much of Asia? For an answer, read Geraldine McCaughrean's Tamburlaine's Elephants. This is a story of Rusti, a young boy who wants to join Tamburlaine's soldiers. He gets his wish and finds himself outside Delhi's walls when the Mongol army lays siege to India's capital.

In a surprising development, Rusti finds himself shepherding the royal elephants captured in Delhi and the mahout Kavi. While the other Mongols are scared of the elephants, Rusti seems to have a strange affinity for these beasts. This wins him favours from the Emir. On the way back to Samarkand, Rusti's brother Cokas dies and Rusti is married off to Borte, Cokas' shrewish wife. Rusti now has to deal with Borte's temper and contempt, a sullen Kavi (whom he has saved by dressing him in girl's clothes and keeping him as his personal slave), and Shidurghu, the strange Chronicler. He plays chess with Shidurghu who tries to teach him to read and write.

Shidurghu also tells him a story — of the massacre at Zubihat — that sows doubt in Rusti's mind. Is he a Mongol or is he a tajik (city dweller)? Was he the sole survivor of the Zubihat massacre? Is that why Borte despises him?

Once they reach Samarkand, Borte finds an excuse to sell Kavi. Rusti is appalled as this would mean exposing his trick. But it is the Chronicler who buys Kavi and Rusti soon suspects they're up to something. It is at the Emir's wedding festivities that everything comes to a head. Read the book to find out how.

Though the book has a lot of blood and gore, it does not glorify war and bloodshed. Through Rusti, the reader is made aware of how war and its resultant savagery can lead to lingering hate and poison relationships. Definitely a book worth reading.

TAMBURLAINE'S ELEPHANTS; Geraldine McCaughrean, Usborne Publishing, £5.99.

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