Yet another story on how war tears apart the lives of the innocent, this book grips the mind, tangos with the heart, and leaves you warm and teary-eyed.
Oldie but goodie!
Alone on a Wide Wide Sea was written by Michael Morpurgo, and published in 2006. Given that it’s literally been a dozen years since this came out, this review is probably a teensy weensy bit late, but I assure you, I’m not wasting your time.
One of the many orphans to be sent out of their homeland and relocated to foster families in other countries, Arthur heads to his first “new” home in Australia. With only a key around his neck, “London Bridge is falling down”, and a vague memory of a sister he may or may not have made up as his only memory of home, the miserable and bullied boy befriends Marty, and the two become as thick as thieves.
Child abuse, inhumane living conditions, and quiet rebellion characterise Arthur’s childhood till the unthinkable happens- an incident scarring both Arthur and Marty, prompting them to take charge of their lives and run away. They meet the kindly Megs, who takes them under her wing, making independent, literate beings out of them. Not one to get so attached she’d end up clipping their wings, she lets them go when they’re ready.
While Arthur sails through many tragedies, and has people he loves wrested from him, he never gives up on finding Kitty, so much so that he brings up his young daughter Alexis on the seas, promising he would build her a boat that they could sail to England to find her aunt.
Thus, eighteen years later, the headstrong and skilful sailor (whose voice the second half of the book is in) hops on to Kitty Four, on her one-woman journey across the wide seas.
Morpurgo doesn’t sugarcoat the harsh realties of life. He draws the reader in slowly, with the promise of hope, and strikes them down with one tragedy after another, just enough to keep them guessing whether the characters ever meet their goals or keep dreaming past their graves.
Taking inspiration from accounts of real war-orphans who were relocated, Morpurgo once again gives us insight into the lives of the people nobody looked at after the war when they studied in their history textbooks.
Arthur is an open book, who sinks his hooks into you so that his every weakness feels like your own. When he laughs, you laugh, when he cries, you cry and when he talks about Alexis, you glow with pride over her as though she were your own daughter. Alexis is spirited, optimistic and resilient. She loves her father deeply and is a stubborn, resourceful child of the sea.
- Hot chocolate, Alexis’s favourite beverage
Morpurgo tugs at the heartstrings with every relationship, every log, every storm rise and fall. He makes you marvel at nature’s bounties that are out there in the deep waters, he makes you want to sail the seas like a free bird, he shows you the small wonders of life that you can see by just reaching out- as Alexis did to an astronaut, or Arthur did to his wife.
There are explicit and extensive references to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner-Arthur’s favourite song- that give the book a magical and almost ethereal quality that envelops you and draws you in to the waters of the sea. Written with extensive research, this is yet another book that focuses on the journey- not so much the destination. “Follow your heart”, it says, “and you will never regret it”.
- Albatross that guides Alexis
Simply because this book was so complete, I give it 4.25/5 stars. (Yes, that sounds so utterly snooty, but whatever.) It’s a book that makes you feel. I found it to be beautiful, and yet not very intense and depressing. A book full of bittersweet moments for sure.
My dad bought me this book back in 2009, and being young as I was, I kept it aside in favour of the Percy Jacksons and Alex Riders that were trending at the time. I wouldn’t have appreciated the book anyway, since the lack of “cool” (or the short list of things I thought were cool back then) elements in the book would’ve left me frustrated and unable to continue reading it till it came to the end.
9 years later, I can safely say that I don’t regret buying it, or reading it.
Have you read Alone on a Wide Wide Sea? Did you like it? Would you be willing to give it a try?
Let me know!