A book to cherish
Sonam and the Silence
Eddie Ayres & Ronak Taher
When I was in early primary school, the school librarian read us a picture book of the story of Sadako and the Thousand Paper Planes. The haunting and desperately sad story of a little girl dying of radiation poisoning, quietly folding origami cranes has stayed with me. That is the power that a picture book can have.
Sonam and the Silence tells the story of Sonam, a six-year-old girl living in Taliban-occupied Kabul. She lives with her mother, big brother, small brother and sister and spends her days playing hide and seek in the alleys of the city. When she turns 7, Sonam’s big brother orders her to cover her hair and begin to work.
Running through the market she is battered by noise, metal beaters, food sellers and beggars. She runs into a garden of mulberry and pomegranate trees where she can hear the noise of wind through her flying hair. Amongst the trees, an old man is playing music. The sound nobody in her country is allowed to hear under Taliban rule.
Every day, Sonam sneaks away to the garden where the old man teaches her to play a rubab.
Sonam hums as she is selling chewing gum to people in their cars, she cannot hear the car horns or the distant gunfire.
When her brother hears her humming Sonam’s rubab is taken away. The music is gone.
Planes shriek in the skies, gunfire and rockets roar through the air. There are foreign soldiers on the streets and the old man is gone; the garden is silent.
Taking the last pomegranate from the garden, she plants the seeds in her own home’s tiny garden but in the hole she has dug she finds a buried box. Her brother had hidden her rubab to keep it and Sonam safe. She has found her music.
Musician and author Eddie Ayres has spun a gentle and sad story about the plight of young musicians in Kabul. During a year in Afghanistan, teaching at a music school in Kabul, he met a young musician named Sonam who had been selling gum on the streets and wrote this story for those young musicians.
“They are holding a music thread that has been alive for thousands of years. Some people tried to cut the thread, but the kids stopped them by studying music and bringing it back to life,” Ayers said.
“It is hard for all musicians in Afghanistan, even now.”
Sonam and the Silence is beautifully illustrated by the Iranian-Australian born, Iranian-educated artist and animator, Ronak Taher. Add it to books like Uno’s Garden by Graeme Base and Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr Seuss and share them with the small people in your world.
Eddie Ayres has a fascinating story to tell and does so in his book Danger Music, released in 2017. Watch Eddie in conversation with Jon Faine at The Wheeler Centre below.