Review - A novel about apprentice archaeologists in Pakistan

  • Published: Monday, 17 December 2018 02:19
  • Written by Jean-Olivier Gransard-Desmond translated by Svetlana Huré
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For the seventh novel from the series Drôles d’aventures (Strange Adventures), the publishing house Gallimard Jeunesse invites readers to discover the marvelous world of archeology in the Pakistan province of Baluchistan. Friendship, adventure and danger intertwine with real facts to give the reader a fun and enriching experience. The book is supported by Bernard Gabriel’s quality storyline and Philippe Biard’s beautiful black and white illustrations.


Bernard Gabriel and Philippe Biard
Published by Gallimard Jeunesse

Apprentice archaeologists in Zimistan © Gallimard JeunesseIn this adventure novel unlike any other publishing house, Gallimard Jeunesse invites the reader to discover the marvelous world of archeology in the Pakistan province of Baluchistan, an arid plateau between Pakistan and Iran which its inhabitants call “Zimistan” or “the hot country”.

Bernard Gabriel takes readers on an adventure with apprentice archaeologists Morgane and Sikander who are working on a digging site with Morgane’s father, Dr. Pierre Coissard.

While excavating, an unexpected discovery will turn Sikander’s village and the site upside down - a tomb containing two bodies. The Pakistani workers name them Poonoo and Sassi. One morning, disaster strikes. The jewels adorning the bodies have disappeared.

Who has stolen the jewels from Poonoo and Sassi’s tomb? Only Morgane’s fearlessness and Sikander’s boldness can solve this enigma. Is Sharif Ali, the bandit leader, the culprit?

Follow the footsteps of two apprentice archaeologists to discover the true nature of thieves, familiarize yourself with the workings of an archaeological site, discover the ancient culture of the Indus and enjoy a warmhearted 20th-century adventure.

Bernard Gabriel et Philippe Biard, Apprentis archéologues au Zimistan, Collection Folio Junior 889, Drôles d'aventures n°7, Gallimard Jeunesse Publisher, 1998. 96 pages illustrated. Format 12,4 x 17,8 cm. Price : 6,40 € at your bookshop or on the editor's web site. Style : Children's Books > Adventure, Detectives

ArkéoTopia’s Review

Storyline 5/5
An ideal scenario and mood for fiction © Gallimard JeunesseThe writer has succeeded in the difficult task of combining an adventure story with staying true to the real aspects of an archaeological mission.

While presenting information about the ancient civilizations of Baluchistan and the functioning of an archaeological excavation, Bernard Gabriel brings to life a true story of friendship, courage and justice through his heroes Morgane and Sikander. In short, it is a well-constructed novel with an unexpected ending.
Illustrations 5/5
Even though the illustrations are black and white, they have the merit of not only being visually pleasant but also varied in their way of narrating historical and documentary aspects of the story.
The illustrations alternate between showing the action of the story and presenting the everyday life of the excavation site. Each page is illustrated with one or more drawings that make it possible to follow the unfolding story in an instructive and fun way.
Resources 4/5

Apprentice archaeologists in Zimistan © Gallimard JeunesseApprentice archaeologists in Zimistan © Gallimard JeunesseFor a work of fiction, it presents several very relevant resources.

Several maps indicate the places where the action takes place (general map of the world showing the location of Pakistan, a picture showing the setting where the adventure takes place presented on the right and a map of antiquity to show the culture of Mohenjo-Daro). Some illustrations show resources on their own because they allow the reader to recognize tools and places specific to an archaeological excavation site (theodolite, target, laboratory, slab lifting technique, etc.) as shown by the example of the laboratory in the illustration on the left.

A bibliography at the end of the novel allows the reader to go further in the discovery of the history of Baluchistan and archaeological methods. At the end of the book, the reader will find two pages in which the author and the illustrator explain how they put the book together.

One weak spot: the difference between fiction and reality is not explained at the end of the book. For adults, this distinction can be taken for granted, but experience has shown that it is not the same for young people. It would have been beneficial to emphasize that none of the characters really existed, but that the information on the culture of the Indus and the excavation techniques correspond to reality.

Archaeological Relevance 5/5
Apprentice archaeologists in Zimistan © Gallimard JeunesseApprentice archaeologists in Zimistan © Gallimard JeunesseThe subject and the quality illustrations make this novel an excellent way for a young reader to enter the fascinating world of archeology.

This sample passage from the book shows real techniques used by archaeologists to identify an archaeological site (loose translation by translator):
“Morgane, eyes firmly fixed to the ground, moved through the site in short jumps. Sikander followed her, looking stunned.
- Ah! Here is a shard here ... and another there ... Oh! Oh! It looks like Islamic pottery; I'll have to show it to dad ... You see Sikander, the ones covered with this shiny varnish are usually recent, the ones painted or without color may be older ...” (p. 18)
Target Audience Relevance 5/5
Suitable for children 9-10 years old, a younger crowd may also enjoy reading this book. Indeed, the novel is short and amply illustrated.
More avid readers may be disappointed, but there are more suitable novels (see our bibliography).
General Appreciation 4,5/5
In short, it is a beautiful children’s novel that combines adventure and information on the lives of local inhabitants today and in the past, as well as the work of archaeologists. Pleasant to read, it is a very beautiful story of friendship and respect between cultures. A must-read for all budding archaeologists.

Tell us what you thought about the book by writing to Augustin on his Facebook page or by email at

To find out more about the writers: about the illustrator Philippe Biard

Note that the company has conducted an online questionnaire (in French) to assess the understanding of the novel. To access it, you are required to create an account before logging in.

© 2019 Illustrations have been reproduced with the express authorization of Gallimard Jeunesse. They may not be copied in whole or in part in any manner without the permission of the copyright owner.

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