Friday 29 June 2012

Island of the Blue Dolphins

Wow, what a story! This was my second reading of this amazing action-packed, dramatic tale, and I loved it even more than the first time. The story of a 12 year old girl, Karana, who becomes stranded, alone on her native island off the Californian coast in the 19th century. She survives for nearly 20 years on her own. Inspired by the real life story of Juana Maria, Island of the Blue Dolphins won the Newbery Medal in 1961.

Karana has grown up on the island, is schooled in the pattern of the seasons and the ways and means of living from the land and the sea. It is of course this knowledge that allows her to survive. Although she has to go against the tribal customs that forbid women from making weapons, and overcome many other challenges. It's often quite beautifully written. There are particularly lovely passages about the fish, birds and other creatures who share her world.

The sai-sai is the colour of silver and not much bigger than a finger. On nights when the moon shines full, these little fish come swimming out of the sea in schools so thick that you can almost walk on them. They come with the waves and twist and turn on the sand as if they were dancing. 

Karana makes some unusual alliances in the many years of her solitude, and there are very powerful environmental messages woven into the story. We see the beauty of the changing seasons and the vitality, intelligence and caring instincts of her animal companions. We also see the brutality of the hunters who come from the Aleutian Islands to hunt the plentiful otter for fur. I'm still reading Robinson Crusoe for the first time (and finding it a bit slow going to tell the truth), but it's interesting to understand how influential Robinson Crusoe was, and indeed books such as Island of the Blue Dolphins, and Kensuke's Kingdom draw so heavily that they have their own genre called Robinsonade.

Scott O'Dell said that "Island of the Blue Dolphins began in anger, anger at the hunters who invade the mountains where I  live and who slaughter everything that creeps or walks or flies." That anger is apparent. At the end Karana changes her ways too (perhaps somewhat improbably).

After that summer, after being friends with Won-a-nee and her young, I never killed another otter. I had an otter cape for my shoulders, which I used until it wore out, but never again did I make a new one. Nor did I ever kill another cormorant for its beautiful feathers, though they have long, thin necks and make ugly sounds when they talk to each other. Nor did I kill seals for their sinews, using instead kelp to bind the things that needed it. Nor did I kill another wild dog, nor did I try to spear another sea elephant. 

I read this book as my first ever read on the Kindle function of my ipad. The major difficulty was wresting the ipad from my son who naturally is addicted to several ipad games. I'm planning a future post on the ipad reading experience specifically, but I can say that I found it enjoyable on the whole, and so, whilst I haven't embraced the ereading phenomenon with both hands yet, it is very acceptable when I can't get hold of the actual book any other way.

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