by Lynne Kelly
242 pages of exploring many different ideas of what it means to be imprisoned and then freed
I had a hard time getting into Chained – people taking advantage of others, people being cruel to others and to animals twined around Hastin, the teller of the story. Hastin is kind, dedicated, honorable and true and so I struggled to keep reading when is seemed as though everything in his world was conspiring against him. I am exceptionally glad I did keep reading. I can name Chained as the best book I have read this summer.
Why, because at the beginning of the story Hastin was kind, dedicated, honorable and true, as well as being innocent and inexperienced. At the end of the book Hastin had managed to stay true to himself though no one would ever claim him to be innocent or inexperienced again. “Baba (Hastin’s father) said that a story is no good if you hear one the ending. You have to know how you got there. I still cannot say I will ever be thankful for much of what has happened to me, but everything I’ve ever done has brought me here.” The truth of that statement strikes me. Chained is full of richly diverse characters who give readers a remarkable opportunity to examine choices and consequences and the power of relationships as they lead you to “here”.
Hastin, Chandra and Amma are poor. They are able to get by until Chandra is bitten by a mosquito that gives her a disease that can only be treated by medicine and a hospital. To receive this treatment the family must borrow money. Desperate to save her daughter, Amma, Hastin’s mother makes an arrangement with a wealthy merchant. He will pay for Chandra’s care, if Amma will come a work for him as housekeeper and cook. When Hastin visits her in the town he sees she has been beaten and is kept in a shack. Hastin begins to look for work to find a way to free his mother from this place and he meets Timir. Looking to restart his circus, Timir promises Hastin adventure if he is not afraid of work. Of course he is not and when Timir agrees to settle Amma’s debt in exchange for one year of work caring for the elephant. Arrangements are made, and before Hastin knows whether Chandra has survived, he is whisked off into the forest and the circus. Hastin quickly learns that Timir is not the benevolent soul he appeared to be – he is cruel, vicious and dishonest. He has no intention of ever releasing Hastin from his service. No matter what agreement had been made, Hastin has no hope of returning home.
It is through this hardship that Hastin learns more of who he is and how he want to be. Nandita, the elephant, and NeMin, the ancient cook, become Hastin’s new family. It is from their wisdom and example that he learns to avoid the pitfalls of desperation and despair. Their examples allow him to stay committed to living an honorable life, never making choices leading to regret. Hastin remains as strong as a stone, as steadfast as an elephant and as bight as a candle. If we could all be a bit like Hastin, what an amazing world we would find ourselves in.
I can’t wait to share this book with a group of students. I can’t wait to find out how they feel and what they will react to. So many favorite images and characters that will stay with me always. A powerfully thoughtful book!