Title: Fozia and the Quest of Prince Zal
Author: Rosanne Hawke
Publisher: University of Queensland Press – UQP
Publication date: March 30, 2021
Themes: family, community spirit and resilience, hope, courage, natural disaster (Pakistan flood in 2010) as well as social, cultural and economic factors in Pakistan
Fozia and the Quest of Prince Zal is a compelling story of heartbreak and tenacity, inspired by the Pakistani flood of 2010 which affected twenty-one million people, eight million of these being children. This story is set six months after this unprecedented disaster, when the water levels, which took months to recede, were almost back to normal. This book is a window into the aftermath of this catastrophic disaster and shares touching tales from believable characters about community, compassion and a sense of belonging. This will no doubt elicit in readers a sense of empathy and compassion for Fozia as well as all victims of this flood.
Fozia, a twelve-year-old girl survives the flood, lived in a tent camp and now attends a tent school. Her house was consumed by the flood and since this disaster she has not seen any of her family. She is in the care of Aunty Meena, Uncle Akram and their sons, Jehan and Amir who make her feel welcome and supported. They provide her with the opportunity to continue her schooling, a prospect that seemed bleak prior to the flood as she was about to join her mother and father working at the brick kiln to help her family repay the debt they owe the owner.
Each day sees Fozia filled with unwavering hope that she will hear news that a new family arrived at the tent camp and it will be hers. Fozia finds peace and comfort in telling stories to Jehan and Amir, stories inspired by her own family. These stories help Fozia cope with her heartache and make her family feel closer. Storytelling empowers Fozia to communicate and connect with the brothers, as well as express her hopes, fears and what is in her heart. The stories also serve to help ease the burden of a family secret that Fozia is keeping and fiercely protecting. Fozia crafts a captivating story which the boys listen to wide eyed. She seamlessly weaves her precious family memories into a fairy tale about a young boy, Prince Zal, who becomes ill with leprosy. There is a social stigma attached to this disease and Prince Zal is isolated as there is a fear his disease could spread to his siblings and others. Fozia is quick to educate the brothers and points out that leprosy is difficult to catch, can be treated and cured. In Fozia’s story, Prince Zal is on a quest to save his beloved little sister. His sister is swept away down a river and into a dangerous jungle. Prince Zal leaves the palace and makes his way to the hazardous jungle to find his sister. In Fozia’s fairy tale, Prince Zal meets a wise woman who gifts him a flying Persian carpet for as long as he requires it to fulfil his quest. So begins Prince Zal’s quest to reunite with his sister. His quest has all the ingredients for an enthralling adventure as Prince Zal embarks on a dangerous mission, defying the odds in an attempt to rescue his younger sister. Prince Zal must be clever, resourceful and creative to outsmart a formidable and menacing anthropomorphic character to be successful in his quest.
Not only is this story a window into the aftermath of the flood, it is also a window into the social fabric of Pakistan. The reader is taken on a journey through Fozia’s village as she returns to her home to look for her family. This expedition allows the reader to build up a picture in their mind of the landscape, the houses and the people, as scenes are described, such as the boys playing cricket in a bumpy lane. There is mention of the brick kiln and the black smoke that spews from the chimney. It is here that men, women and children work from morning to night moulding bricks from clay to be fired in the kiln. These bricks are used to construct the schools, government buildings, homes and hospitals. Fozia’s family, like many other families, are indebted to the kiln owner as they borrowed money and had to continue to work long hours to repay their debt.
In Fozia’s new home, the reader learns about the tantalising dishes and drinks (chai, a milky sweet tea is a popular drink) she and Aunty Meena prepare. It is also interesting to read about the rich culture of arts and crafts. Fozia’s Ummie (her mother) taught her how to crochet around dupattas (long scarves) and in the book she uses these skills to create a beautiful carpet featuring embroidered figures to represent her family. The skills associated with this handicraft allow Fozia to create a magnificent carpet that she sells online in an attempt to make money to repay her family’s debt to the kiln owner. There is also a wedding in the story and it is mesmerising to read about the days of celebrations and traditions which include beautiful vibrant fabrics, the clothes Aunty Meena and Fozia make (shalwar qameez, outfit of clothes with baggy pants and long loose shirt), the brides ornate wedding outfits, the intricate mendhi (henna) patterns the girls adorn their hands with and the colourful, festive dinner feasts to celebrate the bride and groom.
The glossary of Urdu words at the end of the story is very helpful. It is handy to refer to this when reading the story.
Fozia and the Quest of Prince Zal is a companion novel to Kelsey and the Quest of the Porcelain Doll and Jehan and the Quest of the Lost Dog, three stories that share themes about the importance of family, community and hope.
Fozia and the Quest of Prince Zal is a beautiful exploration about times of unfathomable adversity, where loss and tragedy is common, disease prevalent and bonded labour exists. During such a dark time people show kindness, community spirit and resilience which helps people draw strength from one another, lessening the struggles and burdens. This story also celebrates the power of storytelling and illustrates how stories can be a balm for the heart and mind.