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The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm    by Nancy Farmer order for
Ear, the Eye, and the Arm
by Nancy Farmer
Order:  USA  Can
Firebird, 2002 (1994)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm works on many levels. It is science fiction set in a future (2194) Zimbabwe; an exciting adventure involving three children; an account of a boy's coming of age; and it's immersed in African myth. There are also resonances from the behavior of the children's father, the General, in today's often over-protective parenting. And, of course, Zimbabwe has been very much in the news lately, making this tale even more intriguing.

Father, General Amadeus Matsika (reminiscent of Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music), inspects his children each morning and assigns push-ups for flaws. His elder son Tendai sometimes 'wished he wasn't so - so military' and feels inadequate. Because of their father's fear of kidnappers, the children live behind high walls, guarded by an 'automatic Doberman' and looked after, more or less, by house robots and the Mellower, whose hypnotic Praise Singing literally entrances.

Tendai is a thirteen-year-old who 'feels the other person's pain'; Rita is eleven and feisty; and their little brother Kuda is only four but a lion at heart. The children manage to escape their locked compound, in order for Tendai to earn a Scout explorer's badge, but of course they head into immediate danger and a series of escalating escapades. These involve eccentric minor criminals like the Blue Monkey and the She Elephant, and unusual locations such as Dead Man's Vlei and Resthaven, the Heart of Africa.

Though Tendai, with the help of an ancient ndoro, succeeds in extracting his siblings from early perils, the vicious Masks and their Gondwannan allies are too much for him alone. Fortunately, he has help from the best detectives in Africa, hired by his Mother to locate her missing children. The Ear, the Eye and the Arm have special powers resulting from plutonium that leaked into their mothers' drinking water. Arm's 'long black snaky arms far outreached anyone else's' and he experiences the feelings of those around him; Eye can 'see a flea clinging to a hawk's feathers' and Ear can 'hear an ant creeping up on the sugar bowl'.

The author alternates the children's adventures with those of the detectives, who follow close behind until the climactic ending, in which Tendai and Arm act as spirit mediums for the mhondoro, the tribal spirit of Zimbabwe, in a battle with the evil spirit of neighbouring Gondwanna. Tendai turns fourteen, reaches manhood and discovers his life's vocation ... and the detective business booms. Overall, The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm is a remarkable read, for young and old.

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