Any review of ‘Clear Sky Red Earth’ would be incomplete without a special mention of the artwork throughout the book. Beautifully illustrated by Tenzin Norbu, it is fitting that these marvelous pictures should accompany the story of Namsel, a young girl who wishes to become a painter. This is a book that will have the reader flipping through its pages twice – once for the story and once to fully appreciate the delicate and beautifully detailed illustrations.
The story itself is almost lyrical, using words that are both descriptive and simple. There is no rush through the plot or a need to reach the end. This is a book that is to be savoured, perhaps in the quiet of the night or on a cold wintery morning.
There is also an underlying feminist theme that any child, especially young girls will be drawn to immediately. At times, Namsel is told that her love for painting is not suitable for women, who must instead learn to help with the house and the children. This usually comes from family members who have her best interests at heart and herein lies the grain of truth that many young girls (and even boys) in our country and the world face - the benign but sexist advice that one cannot be a pilot or a nurse or an engineer, simply because of one’s gender. There is a wonderful exchange between Namsel and her uncle where she asks him why none of his stories about the heroes of Tibet are about girls, underlining the real life issue of women role models being drastically under-represented in various mediums. So, it is heartening to see Namsel herself rise above this and succeed using her talent and clever ideas to achieve her goals.
Namsel’s journey from her childhood home all the way to the plains of Tibet will capture the reader’s imagination. Readers will be enchanted by the descriptions of the landscape and the glossary at the end with pronunciations of words as well as a beautiful map that adds to the charm of the book.
All in all, ‘Clear Sky, Red Earth’ is a joy to read, perfectly weaving together geography, culture, family, and the life of a girl as she grows into an intelligent women. By the end of it, it is a little disheartening to put down, because any reader would love for the story to continue (Perhaps with a sequel!).