The Dolphin People, By Torsten Krol
Sunday 15 February 2009
The Dolphin People is a great big tidal wave of a book that will pick you up and whisk you along for the two or three days that it takes to read. You'll read it in bed, at breakfast and on the bus.
Erich, a 16-year-old German boy, leaves the ruins of Berlin with his mother and little brother in 1946, to join Uncle Klaus for a new life in Venezuela. A plane crash in the jungle deposits all four of them in the midst of the Yayomi tribe, who take them to be river dolphins in human form.
This is the set-up, which takes only a few pages to establish, and then things really start to happen. There is lust, love, violence, rivalry, sexual abnormality, danger from jungle creatures, as well as the increasingly hostile Yayomi. Alongside the exciting events that drive the story forward, there's the gradual revelation of the customs and morality of the Yayomi, as well as the secrets in the German characters' pasts. Torsten Krol has an almost limitless supply of surprises to spring, each of which puts everything that went before in a new light.
Particularly impressive is the way that first-person narrator Erich's style changes as the book progresses. At first he is naive and self-centered and says things such as "I thought it was a bit selfish of Mother to have a nervous breakdown just now", but events make him wiser, more sympathetic, more thoughtful – and the prose becomes richer to match. The Yayomi are as well-drawn and individualised as the Germans, and the series of climaxes with which the book ends will have you holding your breath.
There is a minor but fascinating genre including such books as Paul Theroux's The Mosquito Coast and Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible – and The Dolphin People is a distinguished addition to it.
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