Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Day of the Pelican by Katherine Paterson, as reviewed by Atlas

A slight departure in setting for Paterson, whose books usually take place in the United States (especially Vermont), or in Japan, this story follows an Albanian family in Kosovo. Paterson fits a lot into 144 pages, beginning with a strong taste of the culture, gender roles, political atmosphere, and education opportunities of Kosovo in the late 1990's. Tension builds quickly as the Lleshi family goes from debating leaving their relative comfort and security to being penniless, homeless, and in fear for their lives.

Even after the family comes to the United States, where they are at least safe from bombs and genocide, they face struggles of a different kind. Everyone has difficulties with the language and customs of their new home (try to explain "Hell-oween" to your father when only bad people wear masks, and begging for candy would bring shame to your family). They miss their families back in Kosovo. Work is as hard to find as the ingredients for the foods they are used to. Then the attacks of September 11 happen, and the tentative friendships the children have been forming at school seem to fall apart under some vicious attacks.

While the sequence of events is by all means realistic, it did make it hard to identify where the climax of the story would be. The aftermath of the 9/11 events paled in comparison to some of the family's earlier trials, and it was a bit white-washed in that only the children behaved badly - the adults all acted like adults. Most of the main characters do reach some sort of personal epiphany towards the end, and I suppose one could say that's how life is - a series of major and minor events - but it left me feeling I was missing something.

Overall, however, I enjoyed the book, and was pleased to see such a great author turn her hand to an area we don't have many books about. Click on the book cover to add this one to your library.

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