When secrets set sail

by | Jan 23, 2021 | Book Review, Fiction

When secrets set sail cover

Book Details

When secrets set sail
Sita Brahmachari, illus. Evan Hollingdale. London: Orion, pb 978 1 5101 0543 0, 2020, £7.99, 278pp.
Novel, fiction, 10+ years

When Imtiaz, an 11-year old girl moves from Acorn’s Children’s Home to The Hearth and her new family, she is anxious that Usha will never accept her as her confidante and sister.

‘How am I ever going to get through to you?’ – she wonders.

Usha’s withdrawal and her haunted facial expression make Imtiaz feel resigned and unwelcome until she learns that Usha’s expression does not come from anywhere and that in fact she is being haunted by a ghost of her beloved grandmother. Initially disbelieving, Imtiaz soon acquires her own ghost and is able to communicate with her too.

But why are the ghosts there? What are they trying to say? Where will they guide the girls?

Well, this must have something to do with the lost documents that would allow The Hearth to stay open as a refugee centre and remain their home. To avoid relocation and gain closure for the ghosts, the girls piece the stories of the ghosts together, attempt to save The Hearth and set the ghosts’ stories free.

Sita Brahmachari’s novel, imbued with magical realism, is in fact a tribute to the history of Asian women in the UK and at the same time, a strong testimonial to community values cherished and withstood through generations. It encourages perseverance, cooperation and shared responsibility by showing examples of how powerful and effective female friendship can be – both at the peer-to-peer and at the intergenerational level.

In When Secrets Set Sail, Sita Brahmachari’s sentences unfold carefully and without haste. Her literary voice is uniquely aware of how our engagement with the objects of the past, be it hidden book of granny’s art from childhood or an archive in a local library, further our understanding of each other, our identities and our places in history.

Sita Brahmachari’s engaging and vibrant prose will be a real treat for a refined young reader.

Review by Benjamin West