Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Daughter of the Mountains, by Louise Rankin

The book begins with a brief foreword which describes the history of India and its role as a trade center.  The cover description doesn't mention the nationality of our protagonist, so imagine my surprise (and the required shifting of gears) to find myself in a book set in Tibet!

Momo lives in a small village with her father, who carries the mail across dangerous mountain passes, and her mother, who runs a tea house for the various traders and muleteers who pass through en route to bazaars and trade centers farther away.  Momo has seen dogs before, but when her eyes fall upon the lama's dog, a golden Lhasa terrier, she is smitten.  She can think of nothing but the dog, and wants nothing but to own one exactly like it.  But such dogs are nearly nonexistent in her part of the country, and much more expensive than her family could ever afford.

However, Momo is not easily redirected.  She directs all of her energy toward praying to receive a dog just like the lama's.  When she begs her parents for one, her father tells her that her uncle will bring her one when he comes from Lhasa.  As years pass, however, that refrain grows tiresome and Momo is understandably skeptical.  She decides to put more energy into prayers, leaving her most precious possession at Buddha's temple and determining to wear out his ears until he gives in.

Not long afterward, a familiar mule train stops at Momo's home for tea.  When updating the leader on what Momo has been up to in the last year, he pulls a red-gold Lhasa terrier puppy from his coat and presents it to her!  He was en route to sell it in the big city, but its mother died and he is now unable to care for it properly on the road.  Although this would usually be a very expensive dog, the muleteer strikes a bargain with Momo.  If she will care for it like a child and feed and train it well, and permit him to breed it for puppies when it is grown, Momo can keep the dog.

Because this was such an exceptional answer to prayer, the astrologist is immediately summoned to help name the dog and draw up its horoscope.  The dog is given the name Pempa, and Momo is told that the two of them will have a great adventure together, and that he will bring good fortune to the family.

In time, Pempa grows up fat and strong, and loves Momo, always answering her calls enthusiastically.  However, a simple quiet life isn't meant for the two.  One day, a team of muleteers steals the dog when Momo and her mother are distracted with duties in the tea house.  Momo doesn't realize that Pempa has been stolen until she goes outside to search for him and a local boy tells her how he saw the men carry him away with his legs bound and wool in his mouth to quiet him.

Pemma is horrified and doesn't plan to let her dog go so easily.  She runs in to tell her mother that Pempa has been stolen and she's going after him.  Her mother, busy caring for a sick child, nods absentmindedly, not having really heard.  Pemma's journey is set to be a long one- she learns that the leader of the mule train has been offered a large sum by a rich woman in India to deliver such a dog.  But Momo plans to catch up to them long before they reach Calcutta.

I don't plan to share the rest of the plot here lest I spoil it.  But suffice it to say that the author does a great job describing the people Momo meets and the villages she passes through on her way down the mountains.  And yes, she does get her dog back, and Pempa's horoscope does indeed come true!

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