The rabbit soon becomes a valued member of the family, someone to confide in
The story of how this book came to be is a tale in itself. Over fifteen years ago, Van de Vendel met a family of Afghan refugees. One of the children, Anoush, who was 17 at the time, told him about his dangerous journey to the Netherlands, and the two of them wrote a book about it together.
In the book, he was called Hamayun, but he also had to use a pseudonym as an author, because when their book was published, there was still no guarantee that the family would be able to remain in the Netherlands permanently.
Van de Vendel helping him to get his story onto paper was the perfect solution, and he has done so twice: first in the YA novel De gelukvinder (2008), which was well received, and now, almost fifteen years later, in Mishka.
Mishka tells more or less the same story, but for much younger readers. The little sister, Roya, is the protagonist this time. When the family finally move into their first Dutch home, Roya wants a rabbit. Her three big brothers like the idea, too.
Mishka the rabbit joins them and is soon a valued member of the family, someone to confide in. Gradually, the rabbit – and also Roya – gets to hear the story of the family’s escape from Afghanistan, from slightly different perspectives every time: big Bashir, gentle Hamayun, tough Navid and sometimes Mum and Dad make their own contributions to the story. Mishka listens.
There’s a painful part of the story when Mishka escapes and the brothers and sister go looking for him, and the reactions of their neighbours aren’t always positive. This makes Mishka a very relevant book in the current climate.
It’s asking a lot of an author to capture the funny, the everyday, the adventurous and the terrible on paper in such a balanced way. This impactful story has been stripped down to its essence in this new version, and it is told in a controlled way that succeeds in keeping the story small and manageable, yet touchingly beautiful at the same time.