13 Oct / That Night’s Train by Ahmad Akbarpour, translated by Majid Saghafi, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
Banafsheh, a blue-eyed little girl aged 5, is traveling with her grandmother one night on a train, and notices a young woman sitting across from them reading a book. “If my mother were alive, she would be reading a book, too,” she thinks longingly to herself.
The reader, who turns out to be both a writer and a teacher, puts aside her book and quickly develops a friendship with the little girl. Before the young woman alights at her stop, she assures a delighted Banafsheh that she will call and visit the coming Friday. Alas, the young woman breaks her promise, and even the return of Banafsheh’s father who comes home bearing storybooks to share aloud, cannot cheer the disappointed little girl.
While Banafsheh waits, the young woman presents her story-in-progress about her night train reveries to her fifth-graders, asking for their opinions and predictions for what might happen next in her developing narrative. “‘Don’t be afraid to say whatever is on your minds,'” she tells her students. The more she discusses the possible outcome, the more she realizes she needs to see the little girl …
Into a simple story about childhood disappointment and saving redemption, Ahmad Akbarpour, winner of the Iranian National Book Award, weaves a layered treatise on the nature of storytelling when so-called reality and the writer’s imagination overlap, merge, and diverge. The young woman encourages her students to dramatically enhance the story-thus-far by inventing surprising twists and turns. And yet the young woman is absolutely startled when she receives a heartfelt letter from one of her book’s readers who feels she’s been misrepresented by one of the young woman’s characters.
Meanwhile, Banafsheh can only look upon the young woman’s scribbled sheets which hold her work-in-progress with wariness and distrust. Akbarpour then adds yet another meta-layer with his closing “Author’s Note” which details his own experience teaching a “Story Writing for Children class in the summer of 1997” – not unlike the young woman’s class – during which a blue-eyed second-grader named Banafsheh insists she doesn’t “… even like the Banafsheh in the story.'”
Reading and writing both become their own characters in Akbarpour’s sly prose, as he blends and blurs what might be real-life characters with their unreliable narrators to create quite the literary adventure. Younger audiences will have one sort of experience, we oldsters will certainly have another. Shouldn’t even the simplest stories always be so exciting?
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult
Published: 2012 (United States)