The Roses In My Carpets

This book touched me deeply. A young Afghani’s recurring nightmare pulls us into this story – “It’s always the same. The jets scream overhead.” He dreams of running to escape the bombs together with his mother and sister, Maha. In his dreams, they weigh him down and always, he wakes up to his bare home in a refugee camp.

In quiet and almost grim tones, he tells us about his days. He lives with his mother and sister and they manage to eke out a living with the help of a sponsor. He prays and goes to school, but his most cherished activity is when he learns how to weave carpets. It is his lifeline – he hopes this skill will help provide for his family. It also allows him to visualise and carve out his dreams – a world of hope and beauty. The nameless protagonist uses red threads to honour the martyrs, blue for the sky, free of bombing jets, black for the night that hides them from the enemy and white for the shroud of his father. He uses no browns for he longs to escape the dirty brown huts in the camp.

Then one day, he is confronted with the possibility losing yet another member of his family… Will this make him or break him? Has his well of hope run dry?

I personally love this book – Ronald Himmler’s illustrations are always beautiful and in this case, he has sensitively captured the grief and quiet dignity of the family. [You might recognize his work in Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, Rudy’s Pond, Fly Away Home and The Well.] The contrast between the muddy walls and vibrant carpets bring home the themes of strife and hope.

I think it was brave of Rukhsana Khan to write a story about the very painful ramifications of war. Death, displacement, poverty and trauma don’t make for happy reading, but The Roses in My Carpet is masterfully told. Some may say that this book is too distressing for children, but I feel it is important that my children, who have been blessed with safety and stability, understand the agony that other children from war-torn countries have endured. Their feelings and well-being matter just as much.

The story ends on a hopeful note – the boy dreams again, but this time, his family finds a space away from the bombs, where the earth is strewn with red roses and where the sky is blue and free from the menacing jets.

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