cover image The Secret Room

The Secret Room

Uri Shulevitz. Farrar Straus Giroux, $15 (1pp) ISBN 978-0-374-34131-2

Though the exact setting is unspecified (Turkey? the Central Asian steppes? Egypt? Greece?), this tale is nonetheless imbued with very strong atmosphere. A liberal sprinkling of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern architectural elements (minarets, onion-domes, brightly tiled roofs, window moldings right out of Aladdin ) are given a postmodern twist, enlivened by Shulevitz's stained-glass-bright watercolors and crazy-quilt graphics. Impressed with the cleverness of a simple man he meets in the desert, a king appoints him treasurer. The man quickly gains the monarch's favor--as well as the envy of the chief counselor, who plots to bring him down by accusing him of embezzlement. A search of the elderly man's home reveals a secret room, but instead of containing plunder as the wicked counselor has suggested, it's empty except for some sand and a small window--a place, the man tells the king, where he can retreat to remind himself that he's still the same simple fellow he always was. The story's message--that wealth and power don't have to corrupt, and that the measure of true wisdom is humility--carries echoes of many classic fairy tales, but the fresh delivery is Shulevitz's own. All ages. (Oct.)