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The Unicorn Expedition and Other Stories:
The Exploits of Professor Shonku 

Region: South Asia, India

Author: Satyajit Ray

Original Language: Bengali

Translators:  Gopa Majumdar; Satyajit Ray

Illustrator: Agantuk

Genre: Science Fiction; Fantasy

Descriptors: adventure; mythology; mythical creatures; scientists; time travel

Age: 10+ years old

Programming Ideas: Do Unicorns Exist?

The Unicorn Expedition and Other Stories contains seven short stories following the exploits of Professor Shonku, an eccentric physicist and inventor, who knows 69 different languages, has a 24-year-old cat named Newton, and travels the world --and through time-- in pursuit of new knowledge. Written by Satyajit Ray, one of the first Bengali writers to write science fiction stories for children, this collection includes such stories as: “The Sahara Mystery,” “Professor Shonku and the Radiant Fish,” “Professor Shonku and the Cochabamban Cave,” and “The Unicorn Expedition.” All of the stories are connected by recurrent characters, but can be read separately. In “The Unicorn Expedition,” Professor Shonku receives word that a diary by a revered scientist, Charles Willard, has been found and contains a mention of a herd of unicorns and a 200-year-old flying lama (Buddhist monk) in Tibet. Shonku, his neighbor Avinash Babu, and three Europeans travel to Tibet, following in the footsteps of Willard, in order to witness these magical sights for themselves. The journey is long and full of peril as they face many challenges: they are nearly robbed by Khampa bandits, discover that an undercover thief is amongst them, get caught in freezing blizzards, and more! But it is all worth it in the end when they reach the paradise of Dung-lung-do, a beautiful valley filled with gorgeous vegetation and mythical creatures from world legends. These engaging tales help young readers explore the world and different cultures, as they are learning important life lessons and having fun along the way. The stories are full of Indian cultural references and references to cultures invoked by the setting of the story. Some things are explained for the benefit of Western readers, but there are some aspects that may go over some reader’s heads if they are not familiar with these cultures. For example, “The Unicorn Expedition” contains specific references to mythical creatures and religious figures from India, Iran, Russia, Japan, and more. The text reads beautifully, with some stories translated by the author himself. Due to the advanced concepts and high-level vocabulary present in these stories, they are best for strong readers aged 10 years and older.

More About This Book

Reviewed: print book by Penguin Random House India (2004). ISBN-9780143335849. 248 p.  

Notes: For the purpose of this review, only one of the stories has been read from this collection. The very first Professor Shonku story, “The Diary of a Space Traveler,” appeared in Sandesh magazine in 1961. To see the full table of contents for this book, please go to our programming section. Content warning: These stories contain mentions of death which are often graphic, drug use, and human bones being used for novelty purposes, such as a human thigh flute.


Reviewed by: Leah Byrnes

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