[Nonfiction Wednesday] Rebuilding One’s Memory Of Home ‘Rock by Rock’

Myra here.

We are delighted to dedicate our Wednesdays to featuring nonfiction titles, as per usual. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year, when we can.

We are pleased to launch our quarterly reading theme from April to June this year on Migrants, Exiles, Refugees: Stories Of The Dispossessed. Essentially, we are on the look-out for books with the following themes:

  1. Stories of exile and movement from one place to another – either by choice or by circumstance

  2. Narratives on im/migrants, belonging and exclusion

  3. Tales of people who are in transition and displaced from their homes

  4. Stories of seeking refuge and sanctuary and finding forever homes

  5. Narratives of loss and dispossession


Rock By Rock: The Fantastical Garden Of Nek Chand (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Jennifer Bradbury Illustrated by Sam Boughton
Published by Atheneum (2021)
ISBN: 9781481481823 (ISBN10: 1481481827) Borrowed via Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

The first time I learned about Nek Chand was through Barb Rosenstock’s The Secret Kingdom: Nek Chand, a Changing India, and a Hidden World of Art illustrated by Claire A. Nivola (Amazon | Book Depository). When I learned that there was another version of this picturebook biography during one of my Overdrive-surfing-days, I immediately borrowed it.

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Unlike Rosenstock’s version, this story begins with an adult Nek Chand who has already relocated from Pakistan to India as brought about by the Partition. While the violence that precipitated Nek Chand’s family’s displacement was only very slightly alluded to in the actual story,  I appreciated how the authors made what would have otherwise been a confusing narrative to a more accessible one for younger readers, as can be seen below.

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The Author’s Note, however, provided more substantive detail as to the nature of this forced migration and what it meant to Nek and his parents. The narrative indicated how it was really Nek Chand’s homesickness and longing for the greens of his home that led him to gather scraps and discarded materials together to create a fantastical garden that looked somewhat like the memories of his home:

That missing moved from his heart into his hands, and his hands knew what to do.

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This is a remarkable story of how displaced people craft and shape their own sense of freedom, using whatever resources at their disposal, to carve a space that resembles the home that lives within their hearts.

The author’s note indicated that part of the proceeds from this picturebook biography would be donated to the Nek Chand Foundation, committed to preserving the Rock Garden that Nek Chand painstakingly built in secret over a long period of time. I also wondered how a Foreword written by someone from the Foundation would have made some difference to establishing the authenticity of the narrative even further – as voiced by people who live in India and what this carved fairyworld of stone means to the community.

#SurvivalStories2021 Update: 55 out of target 100

June 2, 2021 at 06:30AM Myra Garces-Bacsal