Nino’s Secret Garden’ is a profound tribute to love. This is the author Kevi Z Kevichusa’s first book and must be celebrated for her ingenuity in transforming something that sprung from a place of deep personal grief into an offering of love. Yet you don’t have to experience the loss of a child to grasp the emotions in the book, for the triumph of hope over grief that the story conveys, is a universal theme: it converges in the childlike narrative and the author’s own vibrant artwork which surely plays a crucial part in enriching the vision of the Secret Garden.
Written as a children’s fantasy tale, the simple language employed in the conversation between the two central characters, Nino the little girl protagonist and Losha the Lion, belies the depth of its theme. Readers may find in the book familiar allusions to CS Lewis’s ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ (more specifically the The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe). This fantasy tale dwells on the adventures of the Pevensie siblings who walk into the world of Narnia through a wardrobe, they are guided by Aslan a wise and powerful lion that can speak and is the true king of Narnia. But the similarity ends there. In the Chronicles of Narnia the Pevensie siblings must undertake their adventures to save Narnia and their own lives. In ‘Nino’s Secret Garden’ the adventure is that of the sole protagonist Nino who is only allowed a foretaste of the ‘secret garden’.
The book is dedicated to the author’s two children- her star gazing, dinosaur enthusiast son Judah, whom she lost to cancer in June 2020 and daughter Zara, the protagonist of the story. A particularly poignant moment of the book is when Nino spots a child on the back of a dinosaur and immediately recognizes that to be the cameo of her dinosaur enthusiast brother Judah: “Out of nowhere, came a very long and very big Apatosaurus, walking ever so slowly. On his back, sat a little boy wearing a red cape and holding a pair of blue binoculars. The boy looked at Nino and smiled. At once she knew him”. Subtly but forcefully the reader is drawn to the original matrix of human life. This ‘secret’ place perhaps alludes to the Garden of Eden, replete with the Tree of Life, animals and birds and nature in its pristine beauty. The way into the ‘Secret Garden’ is found only by those possessing the innocence of a child, a childlike heart and awe and wonder only children feel. The underlying spiritual tone of the book provides a cathartic release not only for the author and her family but also for every reader who undertakes this journey with little Nino: “What about the little boy, won’t he be lonely?” “He has me and together we will ride through the star-filled galaxies and have many adventures. No, he isn’t lonely.” Nino hugged Losha tightly.
“Nino’s Secret Garden” is not the first children’s story to be written by a Naga author but in the genre of illustrated children’s stories with biblical and spiritual contexts, it could well be a first. Furthermore by indigenising the names of her central characters in the story, ‘Nino’ which is an Angami term of endearment for girls and Losha, the Tenyidie term for lion, the author brings the universal experience in the story that much closer home. Simply put, here is a book that you personally need to read to experience it for yourself.