Saturday 6 April 2013

Moon Bear: Review

A few weeks ago, I had never heard of moon bears, or bear farming. My first thoughts was, who would farm bears anyway? And why? The answer is utterly abhorrent, and is the base for this powerful, horrible, brilliant novel by Gill Lewis.

Moon Bear is the story of a Tam, a boy whose family is moved, without choice, from their mountain village so the area can be cleared of forest. They are given a new home, but after his father is blown to bits by a hidden landmine, Tam is given a job in the city in the hope of making money for his family.

Tam has never seen a bear farm, and he's shocked by the way the bears are kept, living their entire lives in cages so small they can barely turn around. The cages are up on legs so that waste and urine falls directly to the floor. Tam's job is to clean up beneath the cages, avoiding the swipes of any bears strong enough to attack. Moon bears are a large black bear with a moon-like crescent of white on their chest, hence the name.

A small bear farm, where the bears spend their entire lives.
The reason they are kept like this is Bear Bile. In many parts of Asia, bile from the gall bladder of a bear is considered a powerful medicine, believed to cure anything from a cold to cancer.

Tam witnesses the procedure of the bile being removed, and how the bears are sedated, but not so much that they can't feel the pain of a needle as The Doctor tries to locate the gall bladder and syphon off the bile.

Bear bile - believed to be the cure for... everything!
Things become much more difficult for Tam when a bear cub is delivered to the farm. Tam nurses the cub back to health, and promises, against the odds, that he will find a way to get free and return himself and the bear back to the mountains.

Moon Bear doesn't hold back, without being gratuitous. The language is simple, yet colourful - a deceptively lean style that pulls the reader along. More importantly, it doesn't play to the audience for sympathy, but earns the reader's emotions through honesty, cruelty and hope.

Highly recommended.

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