Bondoux, A. (2010). A Time of Miracles. New York: Delacorte Books for Young Readers.
Koumaïl’s story begins with the Terrible Accident. Gloria is picking peaches in the Republic of Georgia when she hears a screeching noise, looks up to see an explosion, and runs to discover a trainwreck. She unearths a French woman who is about to die, holding a baby to her chest, begging Gloria to care for him. That baby is Blaise Fortune, and Gloria takes him and calls him Koumaïl. Koumaïl loves Gloria, who is a giving, no-nonsense, strong woman. He often asks her to tell his story, and she does – “always in the right order” as she says. It’s actually these stories which end up helping him survive and which demonstrate that hope is fundamental.
They are desperately poor and life gets much more difficult and complex five years later when the Soviet Union collapses and Gloria decides she and Koumaïl, or Monsieur Blaise as she sometimes affectionately refers to him, must flee as refugees from the civil unrest, determinedly making their way westward toward France. This begins a five year journey on foot across the Caucasus (between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea) and Europe where they meet many unforgettable people and have many dangerous experiences. But there is a secret about Blaise’s past. The story he slowly learns about the truth of his family is entangled in the violence during the civil unrest, and revolves around Gloria’s love. She has been a good mother to him all these years, sacrificing and finding extraordinary means to give him the best she can.
It is truly an original story of the love of a mother for her child. Themes of heartbreak, disaster and sacrifice are crisscrossed with themes of hope and love. This coming of age story – and we do see Koumail grow into his late teenage years – takes global issues like social justice, rights for children, the experiences of refugees, and sets them in a not-too-distant past, the 1990’s.A Time for Miracleswill be an easy read, and this piece of contemporary realism will be very eye-opening to children and even some adults. Koumail is an extremely likable, willing to please, sweet, sweet boy. The tone of book, quite empathetic to unprotected children and critical of war, may leave you weeping over both the atrocities of the world, and the beauty of the human soul all at the same time. Amid great sorrow and loss, the big take-away is to “keep walking to the horizon”. As Gloria says, “You will wake up and tomorrow will be better.”
Although young readers in Canada or the United States may not have intimate knowledge of the true historical circumstances of politics and civil unrest in the Republic of Georgia, they will nevertheless relate with the emotions of the young boy and, perhaps, stop to consider the individual circumstances of refugees in our own country and around the world. A Time of Miracles is an incredulous story that’s absolutely believable, given the setting.
Anne-Laure Bondoux has received numerous literary prizes in her native France. Her previous book, The Killer’s Tears, received the Prix Sorcières in France and was a Mildred L. Batchelder Honor Book in the United States. This book is the 2011 Batchelder Award winner which was designed for a children’s book translated into English and then published in the United States. Since very few foreign books are translated to our North American children’s book market, those that make it tend to be special.
Ages 12 – 14
Appealing to this age group because of the themes it evokes: love, inspiration, fear, protection, freedom