In three words:
Desert, hunger, battle
I read this book some months ago now: I was sent it for review in advance of the publication date and only intended to flick through the first few pages and before I knew it I was ripping through the book, not wanting to put it down. I actually started it on a boiling hot day (yes, unusual for the UK which is precisely why I had set up camp in the back garden) and as I read the first sentence I almost felt I was there in the desert.
Anyone who knows my blog will know that I am a sucker for books with animals in them or narrated by animals (see yesterdays post). The fact that I often have problems reading books narrated by children never seems to transcend to books narrated by a rat or a pig or a dog. Don’t be put off though, only the odd chapter is narrated by (in this case) a jerboa rat, an ant or a spiny-taled lizzard and it’s done in such a way feels necessary for the book and also gives us another angle in which to view the humans whom tell us the rest of the tale.
Homeless Rats is about a group of Bedouins in southern Libya who set off in a large convoy to a place in the desert further north where they are assured of bountious barley that they can eat and sell in the markets. Their home village of Mizda has suffered such drought that they have no option but to move on. Once they arrive in J they are grief-stricken by the fact that all the barley ears have been taken already. Hungry and knowing they don’t have enough food to go on another journey they weigh up their options. Just as all seems lost, a young boy finds a stash of barley underground in a Jerboa’s home and then all becomes clear – the dessert rats have harvested all the barley ears for themselves to see them through the winter. Thus begins a battle between man and animal.
This book is really clever in making me see both sides equally and feeling empathy for both animal and human. At first I felt sympathy for the animals who had had their homes destroyed by humans and their food stolen. When all the dessert animal kingdom come together to discuss their lost homes and families and what to do next, I was upset with them as they watched everything they knew fall away from them. Once we switch back to the humans, who are literally desperate at one point as they have no food to stay and no food to go on their way, I realised that it was all about survival. It was easy for me to sit in judgement about these people coming and destroying the animal kingdom but they were starving and they were doing what was necessary to survive.
Verdict – Homeless Rats had shades of Watership Down in the desert. I adored this book and highly recommend.
(Source: I received my copy of this book for review from Quartet Books)