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Book Review: The Day My Father Became a Bush, by Joke van Leeuwen, translated by Bill Nagelkerke

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 10, 2013


The Day My Father Became a Bush This is a remarkably good, short novel that’s ideal for 11-12 year olds.  It’s recommended reading for parents and teachers who want young people to have some understanding of the refugee experience.

This is the blurb from Fishpond:

Before he becomes a bush, Toda’s father is a pastry chef. He gets up at the crack of dawn to bake twenty different sorts of pastries and three kinds of cake. Until, one day, everything changes. Fighting breaks out in the south and Toda’s father has to go there to defend his country. Luckily he has a manual called ‘What every soldier needs to know’. This tells him how to hide from the enemy by using branches and leaves to disguise himself as a bush. Toda remains in the city with her grandmother but even there it’s no longer safe. She is sent to stay with her mother who lives across the border. Toda’s journey is full of adventure and danger. But she doesn’t give up. She has to find her mother.
… The author has received innumerable awards, including the prestigious Theo Thijssen Prize,  the triennial Dutch State Prize for youth literature.

While the book shows what can and does go wrong – how refugees can get lost, lose their papers, get ripped off by amoral people in positions of power, it also shows the resilience, adaptability and initiative that enables survival.  And it’s not heavy-handed: the author uses Toda’s off-beat sense of humour to show how ridiculous some adults are, and how even when she is hungry and frightened, she can still find comedy in some situations.  Language misunderstandings are rendered with droll humour, and Toda’s confusion about the way she’s expected to behave is often hilarious.

At the Public Welfare Office, a crowd of old women want to adopt her:

She took hold of me and sat me on her lap.
“We’re her,’ she said.
‘Now it’s my turn,’ sais the woman beside her.  She pulled me over and sat me on her lap.  And so it kept going.  They moved me from lap top lap.  Because I was still a bit sleepy, I let them.  Also, I could see that it made them happy.
Every lap was different.  Some were wide and rocked like a boat.  Some were very soft, although you couldn’t sink all the way in because the stomach got in the way.  Some were hard and bony, and there was even one I nearly fell right through.
Once I’d tried out all the laps they put me down again.
‘Now,’ they said.  ‘Who are you going to choose?’
I didn’t know what they meant.  Had this been a ‘best lap’ competition?

Perceptive readers will notice that while Toda is keen to be on her best behaviour at all times, adults don’t seem to worry about this at all.

Highly recommended.

Author: Joke van Leeuwen
Title: The Day My Father Became a Bush
Translated from the Dutch by Bill Nagelkerke
Publisher: Gecko Press, 2013
ISBN: 9781877579165
Source: MPPS School Library

Availability

Fishpond: The Day My Father Became a Bush
Book Depository: The Day My Father Became a Bush

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