April 06, 2020

Music for Tigers

Written by Michelle Kadarusman
Pajama Press
192 pp.
Ages 8-12
April 2020

Art is born of the observation and investigation of nature. (Cicero)

There is art within the pages of Music for Tigers. It's the art that comes from seeing and hearing and knowing a place and its people. Just as she did in her earlier books, The Theory of Hummingbirds (2017) and Girl of the Southern Sea (2019), Michelle Kadarusman delivers us with her art, this time to the island of Tasmania, a land rich with stories, of history, of landscape and of life.
This vacation is getting stranger by the day. Uninvited campers. Extinct bandicoots that aren't extinct after all. Scary-looking spiders that I'm not supposed to be scared of. Odd noises and stranger smells in the night. And what exactly is the real story with the Tasmanian tigers? (pg. 44)
Louisa just wants to play violin and rehearse for a spot with the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra. Instead she is shipped off to a bush camp in the remote Tasmanian rainforest to spend six weeks of the Canadian summer with Uncle Ruff, her mother's brother. Everything is new and strange and Louisa fears the animals, the smells, and a place that offers her few comforts.

Because of the remoteness of the family camp, just an assortment of crumbling cabins beside a river, Uncle Ruff takes her to the nearby Eco Lodge for Wi-Fi. Here she meets proprietor Mel and her son, Colin. Colin, a boy whose ASD makes social interactions more challenging, is a superb bushwalking guide, knowing everything about the Tarkine, this remote area of northwest Tasmania. He tells her about the devils and the seemingly-extinct thylacine a.k.a. the Tasmanian tiger, which is not a tiger at all but a carnivorous marsupial that looks more dog-like with stripes on its back. He also shares stories of Tasmania's history as a convict colony, and rumours that Convict Rock, in the middle of their local river, is haunted. Coupled with readings of her great-grandmother Eleanor's journal from 1939 and 1942 and discussions with her Uncle Ruff, Louisa starts to learn what a special place the Tarkine is. Even more extraordinary is that her violin playing may be drawing a thylacine in to listen.

Michelle Kadarusman brings two worlds together in Music for Tigers and shows that they can work in unison. Louisa didn't want to leave the city for the bush, determined that she would not leave her dreams of playing the violin behind, and Uncle Ruff is happy enough to do without the amenities his sister left to enjoy in another country and in the city. Both change.
For once, I don't have my violin. I want to hear the music of the forest instead. I sit and listen to the currrawongs sing their Vivaldi chorus and the rhythmic swish and sway of the towering giants above me. I close my eyes, breathe in the lemon myrtle, and listen carefully. (pg. 168)
Together Ruff and Louisa, with a little help from their friends, work to do good, though sadly they have to do so because of the encroachment of human activities, such as mining and logging, on the natural environment. Music for Tigers is a statement, albeit a songful one, of our impact on the natural world for our own purposes, destroying critical habitats and species. It implores us to step up and put conservation and preservation measures in place before it's too late, when even the music of our efforts won't be enough to save ecosystems and their species.

With Music for Tigers, Michelle Kadarusman reminds us, again, that being human requires much of us but the dividends from benevolence to others, human and not, may be unforeseen but boundless.

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