I picked up this book while on a week-long writing retreat, one evening when I couldn’t face my own writing any more. It was short, easy to read in an evening, and I stayed up and read it before bed.
LS Matthews has written a charming and deceptively simple story of Tiger, the child of foreign aid workers in a war-torn country. Tiger is the only character in the book who gets a name. The wise guide who takes the family on their harrowing journey says his name is too hard to pronounce so call him Guide. The donkey (also a major character) is Guide. And Tiger’s parents are Mom and Dad.
The country itself is not named. The novel uses childhood innocence to observe the building horror of the situation, and the difficult questions that the horror will stop for Tiger’s family but not the rest, because they are being evacuated if they can reach the airplane. Tiger wants to know what will happen to his friends. His parents try hard to soft-petal that answer, but readers get it.
A journey fraught with hardships resulting from the drought and war that ruined the country shows perils from natural to human. They cannot cross the easiest border because it is now closed to refugees. They are a target, as foreign workers, for kidnapping and ransom. And they don’t know how to navigate the mountains that separate them from the plane that will not wait, and cannot communicate with the plane.
If the book sounds dark, it isn’t. Donkey and Fish are two of the most human characters in the book; on the day they have to leave, Tiger rescues a fish from a receding mud puddle. The fish would have died, the puddle drying up and leaving him noplace to live. Fish continues to be a metaphor for the family’s survival, placed in a water bottle, and eventually…. well, you read the book. You’ll find it interesting.
Spoiler alert: the donkey makes it. :]
Although written for children, I found the simplicity of the story and the metaphor-rich writing lovely, and moving in their stark poetry. Two fins up.