After writing this review, I found I couldn't stop thinking about the book. In fact, I woke up this morning thinking about it. I picked up the book and turned to the back and read the Author's Note for the first time. I have to admit, I very rarely read those. Anyway, I found out something interesting which changes a bit how I look at this book.
The main character of this book (Neftali) is actually based on a real person, Pablo Neruda. According to the Author's Note, he was one of the most important literary poets of the twentieth century and he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. He used his voice, his poetry, to speak to the common people. He was very passionate about both love and despair. When armed guards of the military government came to search and ransack his house, Neruda announced, "Look around - there's only one thing of danger for you here: poetry."
I want to add this to my review because it made me think differently about the book. It doesn't exactly change what I said, my heart will never let me understand how people can treat children like that or not stand up for them. It does make me more awed by Neftali's ability to nurture his own passion, even as a young boy. I can see this as a powerful story about the resilience of children. I still did not enjoy reading it, but it means more to me now.
From the time he is a young boy, Neftali hears the call of a mysterious voice. Even when the neighborhood children taunt him, and when his harsh, authoritarian father ridicules him, and when he doubts himself, Neftali knows he cannot ignore the call. Under the canopy of the lush rain forest, into the vast and fearsome sea, and through the persistent Chilean rain, he listens and he follows...
This book is about Neftali and his childhood in Chile. He has a very strict, domineering father and a meek, subservient step-mother. He has an older brother who is an amazing singer but the father flat-out refuses to allow it. And he has a younger sister who he tries to protect. Neftali feels very strongly about things, he has a poet's heart and imagination. His father tries very had to squash this, but Neftali is resilient.
I didn't much care for this book. I do get the appeal. It's a moving story with beautiful language and images. It is a good book for children to read to learn about different literary devices. But I didn't care for the story itself. I hated the father and blamed the mother for not standing up for the kids. I did admire that Neftali worked very hard to keep his dreams alive. And I understand that some families live like this, but it isn't something I enjoy reading about. I read it with my son because he was reading it for his English class. He thought the book was sad and didn't care for it much either.
People who like to read about other cultures, family relationships or about kids overcoming obstacles to follow their dreams.