Sonam and the Silence
About the book
In Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, Sonam's world is dark and silent. Then one day, she follows a magical melodious sound to a walled garden, and her world is silent no more. The sound is music, and it lifts her up amongst the stars and takes her deeper than the tree roots in the earth. How can she hold on to this feeling in a world where music is forbidden?
A lyrical fable-like story by the well-known musician, author and broadcaster Eddie Ayres, about the irrepressible power of music.
About the author
Eadric (Eddie) grew up in England, studied music and has adventured throughout the world as a viola and cello player. Eadric's big desire in life is to introduce classical music to as many different people as possible, so for ten years he worked as a broadcaster with the ABC, ultimately presenting the popular breakfast programme. Eventually Eadric's adventurous spirit demanded more, and he moved to Afghanistan to teach music there for a year. Eadric was born Emma, and transitioned just before his fiftieth birthday.
About the illustrator
Ronak Taher is an Iranian-Australian artist born in 1984. She finished her bachelor of Graphic Design at the University of Tehran, also holds a Master of Illustration and Animation from the Azad University of Tehran. In 2013 she was celebrated as one of the 300 upcoming world talents in film industry at the Berlin Film Festival. Ronak also works in the fields of graphic design, illustration and sculpture. She has had over six solo and group visual art exhibitions and has illustrated more than eight books for children and young adults.
This beautifully written and illustrated picture book is a critique of the silencing of the music and its importance, a celebration of the arts in our humanity, as well as paying tribute to what Andrew Upton (in conversation with Robyn Ewing in 2013), has called the Arts as disobedience. Both the writing and the illustrations are multi-layered.
As the author's note makes clear, this is a book based on fact. In the grim years following the triumph of the Taliban in Afghanistan, all forms of music were banned. This book imagines one small girl—Sonam—meeting an old man who defies the ban and plays music, because, he says, when it is forbidden, is the time 'when we need it most'. The old man represents harking back to the older culture and the importance of holding on to traditions. From him, Sonam learns to play the rubab, a traditional instrument made from the wood of a mulberry tree.
Eddie Ayres worked for a year in Afghanistan, teaching music in the National Institute of Music and one of his pupils there was called Sonam—the inspiration for this book. Adding further depth to this story are the rich, sophisticated and beautiful illustrations. These are by Ronak Taher, an Iranian-Australian illustrator. She has used a mixture of media to give layers and texture to her illustrations. The layout of double-page spreads throughout allows a panoramic view of each scene. There are symbols of freedom, joy and play with gardens, birds, Sonam running, her hair flying and sitting in a stylised pomegranate tree, making music on her rubab.
Things change, however, when her brother hears her humming the music she has learnt from the old man. He takes away the rubab and she becomes withdrawn, illustrated by her bound in a long chord, the pomegranate tree no longer a safe haven but with fruit scattered everywhere. The colours change from the rich greens, purples and blues to brown and black as a menacing image of war with planes, bombs and shouting soldiers symbolises the invasion of Afghanistan. There is noise, lots of noise but, without music, it seems silent to Sonam who goes to look for the old man, only to find him gone and the pomegranate tree withered. As a symbol of life, though, there is just one fruit on the tree from which Sonam can grow more trees. Even better, as a wonderful surprise to her and to the reader, as she digs she discovers buried beneath the tree, a box with her rubab, carefully concealed and protected by her brother. This is another symbol of new life and love. She plays the instrument again, bringing back the music and the precious memories of the old man who will always be with her through the music she plays. The music here is metaphoric for language.
The story is written in the present tense, highlighting the fact that a story like this can and does happen at all times. The book gives a voice to children enduring war and is dedicated by the illustrator to 'all kids experiencing war who will never have a chance to read this book'.