Monday, September 24, 2007
Alone on a Wide Wide Sea by Michael Morpurgo
I have been a Michael Morpurgo fan for years. His Dear Olly remains one of my all time favourites and he constantly amazes me with the breadth of subjects and the sensitivity with which he addresses them. He is as prolific as he is highly acclaimed and has written more than 90 books. Not only has he served as one of Britain’s Children’s Laureate, but he was instrumental in getting creating the office. A master storyteller, now Morpurgo has tackled the subject of displaced War orphans. The characters he has created in Alone on a Wide Wide Sea are so real that it’s hard to believe they have grown not from flesh and blood, but are grown from imagination, meticulous research, lyrical craft, and an astute eye for detail.
Alone on a Wide Wide Sea, is the two stories and both are deeply moving. The first is the “Story of Arthur Hobhouse”, and it begins with these words, “I should begin at the beginning, I know that. But the trouble is that I don’t know the beginning.” Dying of a brain tumor, Arthur looks back on his life. His journey from little boy orphaned by the WWI and separated from his sister to the old man telling his story to his eighteen-year-old daughter is heart wrenching. Arthur is one of hundreds of children sent on a ship halfway around the world to Australia. Alone, frightened, and dreadfully seasick, Arthur is fortunate to be taken under the wing of a slightly older boy named Marty. The two become like brothers and they are among the unlucky ones who end up being physically and emotionally abused at an isolated farm. It takes several brutal years and the death of one of the other boys before they escape. With the help of Aboriginal people, the boys find their way to the eccentric Aunty Meg takes in strays until they are well enough to return to the wild. Aunty Meg nurtures the boys and sets them on a path to the sea where they learn boatbuilding. A drop in the shipping industry throws the boys into despair and leads to the death of Marty and to Arthur’s despair. Love, the sea and ship building revive him, but just as he is about to set out with his daughter to try to locate his long lost sister, he discovers the tumor. His death ends the first story.
“The Journey of the Kitty Four” is the second story. It is the journey Arthur’s daughter takes on the boat her father designed and her grandfather built in search of Arthur’s long lost sister in England. The solo journey on a small sailboat from Australia to England is nearly as grueling as Arthur’s life journey, but the results are equally satisfying. In the end, Allie completes her father’s story, and begins a new story, her own.
This was a difficult but moving. It may be fiction, but it follows the all too true stories of displaced children who were sent thousands of miles from their homes to Canada, New Zealand and Australia after WWII. Some of the children found loving homes; others had terrible harrowing experiences like those of Arthur and Marty. Morpurgo doesn’t sugar coat pain and suffering, but he does manage a bit of magic. He stretches the love between family across oceans and through time, and demonstrates the deep human connections it inspires in all of us.