Samukat is an artist renowned for the detail and life that he invests in his paintings. He is not just a painter who sees his art as work, it is his life. Then one day he receives a request from the lord of a country to the north. He is asked to come and create a visual world for the lord’s eleven-year-old son, Madurer, who suffers from an unusual allergic reaction to sunlight and the outside air. The boy has to live a cloistered and protected life with no access to the outdoors or outdoor life. Samukat with some anxiety, accepts the commission. This is the start of an increasingly deep friendship between adult and child, artist and dreamer, for Samukat also gives up the outdoor world. Together the two create a whole landscape in which the scenes seamlessly (magically) change as their ideas and dreams change. And as Madurer’s strength fails, Samukat’s desire to show him a world the boy will never know except through his skill with paint, grows ever stronger.
This is an interesting novel to consider. It is not a tempestuous adventure or stereotypical relationship. Here we see a very deep real bond between child and adult, a bond that develops and grows. We see how even in the face of an extreme situation, imagination can open a door to bring dreams, ideas, stories to tangible life and we are presented with both life and death – but not perhaps the way we might expect. It is a reflective story – a novella rather than a long drawn out read – but it is completely engrossing. The style, here recreated by the excellent translation of Leah Janeczko, is that of a traditional tale from the Arabian Nights which allows a certain distance and acceptance of the magical dreamlike elements. It also avoids any sentimentality. The author opens a door to the feelings, and attitudes of not just a child but of the adults involved – the conclusion and Samukat’s response are particularly telling. This is a novel which reflects a different tradition in writing for young people. We can see a similarity in many ways to Exupéry’s The Little Prince, already a well-established classic here. These two books have a real affinity in their atmosphere and belief that children can respond to questions and ideas that might be considered too philosophical. Piumini is an important author in Italy and this is the first book by him to appear here . It is a welcome addition to the cannon of children’s literature in the UK.