The Secret Kingdom: Nek Chand, a Changing India, and a Hidden World of Art by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Claire A. Nivola

The Secret Kingdom: Nek Chand, 
a Changing India, and a Hidden World of Art 
illustrated by Claire A. Nivola
Review Copy from Candlewick Press
With The Secret Kingdom, Rosenstock and Nivola tell the story of a creativity, passion and perseverance that spanned decades, producing one of India's most popular tourist destinations. Born in the Punjab region, Nek Chand grew up farming and hearing stories, so many his head was overflowing with them. At the edge of the village stream, using the natural resources at hand, he built a world to hold these stories. Nek dug "silt palaces and spilled waterfalls, molded clay goddesses and planted stick kings. He found rocks shaped like jackals, monkeys, and geese, and made them pounce, scamper, or fly."
When parturition split India, Nek and his family fled to Chandigarh, walking twenty-four days from Muslim Pakistan to Hindu India. Soon, Nek began to build a new, hidden city. Using natural resources and refuse, Nek recreated the village he grew up in. A stunning two page, gatefold spread begins with an illustration of Nek at the foot of a waterfall he built, his statues flanking him. It opens to reveal four pages of photographs of Nek's Secret Kingdom, a work of art that "tells the stories all people need to hear . . . stories of coming home."


Rosenstock's author's note adds depth to an already dramatic, triumphant story, providing details about the city of Chandigrah and the ongoing government threat to raze Nek Chand's lifework. Sprawling across twelve acres of unused land at the northern edge of India's only planned city, Nek's secret kingdom, now called the Rock Garden, stands in stark contrast to Chandigrah. Designed in the 1950s by Le Corbusier, the "European-style, poured-concrete buildings" of Chandigrah were meant to show off an independent, modern India. Instead, Le Corbusier's designs clashed with the country's landscape and culture, with Nek Chand's art returning soul to the city. When the Rock Garden, which Nek began in 1958, was discovered by the government in 1973, they had to be convinced not to destroy it. Nek continued to build, even starting a program for citizens and businesses to recycle waste to be used in his art, completing a second phase of the garden in 1983. In 1984, he was awarded India's highest civilian honor, naming him a national treasure. Despite this, destruction was a continued threat. In 1990, hundreds, including many children, formed a human chain around the garden to prevent bulldozers from tearing it down. An internationally recognized artist, Nek Chand toured the world before his death, at the age of 90, in 2015. His sculptures have been exhibited in museums in Europe, Asia and the United States, where the largest collection of his work outside of Chandigrah resides at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, WI. Sadly, Rosenstock notes that, "City agreements to protect the site are not always honored. As a result, the Rock Garden is deteriorating."
Back matter includes an author's note, an extensive bibliography and information on how to help preserve and protect Nek Chand's Rock Garden. 

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