Monika Schroder grew up in Germany; she became an elementary school teacher and librarian for American international schools in Egypt, Chile, Oman, and India. Her time in India gave her the background for writing Saraswati’s Way. It is a book for readers ages 10 to 14. I like to keep up with children’s and young adult fiction as well as fiction for adults. Schroder says of India that “one of the sad aspects of living in India is seeing the effects of poverty on children.” She shows that poverty along with the hard life some of the children in the book experience.
Akash, the hero of the book, is a gifted student, particularly in math. He staves off boredom by doing math problems in his head. He hopes to go to school beyond the mandatory years, but he will need a scholarship in order to further his education. He hopes to get a tutor so that he will be prepared for the state exam and that a high score on the exam would win him a scholarship.
As readers can imagine, the road is not smooth for Akash. His mother died shortly after giving birth to Akash’s younger sister who also perished soon after the mother. Akash’s father works hard to support not only Akash and himself, but his drug-addicted older brother, the brother’s family, and the grandmother who rules the family. The grandmother sees no need for girls to be educated, so Akash’s female cousins are quickly married into other families as soon as they are of age. The grandmother also sees no need for Akash to have any more education.
Dadima, the grandmother, defends her older son while he sinks further and further into drug addiction, leaving all the burden of supporting the family to her younger son. Sadly, the rains have not come as they usually do, so the crops are failing. The family owes a large debt to the landlord and has no way to pay the debt because of the failing crops. Then papa falls ill and dies. What could be worse for the family and for Akash?
Akash soon finds that Dadima expects him to go to work in the quarry for the landlord in order to support the entire family, including his drug-addicted uncle. Akash goes to the quarry, but he soon realizes that no matter how hard or how long he works, his debt to the landlord will only increase and he will never realize his dream of more schooling. After receiving his first meager pay from which food, tools, and lodging has been subtracted, Akash makes the bold decision to run away. He hops onto a train and goes to Delhi.
In Delhi, he encounters corrupt policemen who take his money. He is bewildered by the traffic and the large crowds of people. Finally, he finds friends, other boys who scavenge trash to recycle. Rohit, another boy, teaches Akash how to avoid the police and to scavenge for the trash they can recycle. Rohit is also from the country; he is earning money to take back to his village to help his ailing mother. Akash is grateful for Rohit’s protection until Akash helps Rohit deliver drugs. Akash feels conflicted about the delivering of drugs and does it only for a short time.
Another friend, an adult who sells magazines and newspapers, Ramesh, also befriends Akash and helps him learn English. Akash is saving his money so he can find a tutor and take the test to get a scholarship and return to school, but Ramesh falls and injures himself. Akash takes Ramesh to the hospital where they learn Ramesh must have an operation to put pins in his arm. The hospital stay is free and so is the surgery, but the pins cost money, so Akash hands over the money he has earned so that Ramesh can have the surgery.
At the hospital, Akash meets a boy who is working a Sudoku puzzle. Naturally, he is interested and the boy shares a page from the puzzle book and watches in amazement as Akash quickly solves the puzzle. This meeting is fortunate because the new friend’s mother is the surgeon who treated Ramesh.
The story does not wrap up neatly, but it does leave readers with hope that Akash will find his dream. His kindness to Ramesh leads him into meeting a new friend and an influential adult. Read the story!