Jackal in the Garden Review
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The latest title in the Art Encounters series tells the story of Anubis, a girl who is born into a harem in 15th century Persia. When his daughter is born horribly disfigured, Anubis’s father orders his servant to leave her in the desert to die—but she survives until her mother sends a servant to bring her back. Anubis grows up in the harem, hidden from her violent father. There, she’s educated and cared for.

But when Anubis’s father kills her mother in a fit of rage, Anubis realizes that she no longer has anyone to care for her. In the middle of the night, she kills her father with his own sword and takes to the desert. After killing a band of men in the desert after watching them hurt a woman, Anubis becomes known as a blood-thirsty monster who roams the desert, killing those she encounters.

One day, Anubis arrives at the city of Herat. While trying to steal food, she’s recognized by one of the men in the city, and she’s chased by the townspeople until she finds a hiding place. That hiding place, she soon discovers, is a garden inhabited by a colony of artists. She’s found by the great miniature artist Kamal al-Din Bihzad, who—along with his friends, painter Haji Dost Mohammed and a potter named Maryam—welcomes Anubis into their colony, where, for the first time ever, she learns what it’s like to have friends.

Jackal in the Garden: An Encounter with Bihzad may be written for young adults, but the story will captivate adult readers as well. Ms. Ellis writes in a light, casual style that makes it a quick and enjoyable read. She brings 15th century Persia to life—the sights, the sounds, and even the art—while telling a fascinating story about a real-life artist and his fictional friend. Anubis is a strong, intelligent character, and even though she doesn’t always do the right thing, readers will understand her—and care about her. And the mysterious Bihzad will have readers searching for more information about the artist and his work. The brief overview of the artist and his life that you’ll find after the book’s conclusion will only whet your appetite for more.

Art students—and others who appreciate art—will want to add Jackal in the Garden to their reading list. But even if you tend to shy away from art museums, you’ll find it well worth your time. After finishing it, you may even find yourself wandering off to the art section of your local library.

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