Thursday, June 2, 2011

Book #39: Kamchatka - 12-year-old boys know a lot!

As a student, I had a deal with my parents - they would pay for my education costs; I was to pay for my lifestyle costs. End result - I juggled at least three part-time jobs while studying!

Student jobs often fall into three categories: retail, hospitality, and babysitting. My job of choice was babysitting and my first assignment was as a 15-year-old, looking after two adorable girls, aged 2 and 4. I remember my first night on the job, singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to the two-year-old as she was tucked up in bed, sleep approaching. Only I had forgotten the words! Lesson learned... never be unprepared when looking after children.

I worked for a range of families, looking after a range of children - newborns, toddlers, twins, sisters, brothers... and a 12-year-old boy! I learnt a lot about children, about myself, and about the world - from a younger person's viewpoint. And thanks to the voice of a 12-year-old boy in Kamchatka, by Marcelo Figueras, I learnt a lot about mid-1970s Buenos Aires.

Summary: Kamchatka is the story of a young boy, forced to square fantasy with a reality in which family, politics, history and even time itself have become more improbable than any fiction. Ultimately, it is a novel about the imaginative spaces we treat to when we need both to escape and to make sense of the world.

In the pages of this charming story, our young narrator takes us on a journey with his family as they hide from the political instability surrounding them. We never get the full story of what is happening, but then neither does our main character. He shares with us what he knows to be going on, and what he doesn't know, he imagines probable circumstances. We're treated to the relationship he has with his little brother, affectionately known as 'The Midget', and the rather grown up relationship he has with his mother. He's understanding, yet cheeky, sensitive of what is going on around him, but prepared to ask that extra question to see just how far he can push his parents into giving him the information he so desperately craves.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It took me a little while to get into, and I found myself picking it up and putting it down many a time. Although the writing was superb, it was the structure that I found slightly difficult. Short, sharp chapters which meant the story didn't flow as much as I would have liked it too - but then perhaps that was an underlying way of illustrating how a 12-year-old thinks! Juggling a lot of thoughts in a young mind, constantly moving from one situation to the next.

There was a lot of love in this book - between parents and sons, and the siblings themselves. Although not the tear jerker that The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas was - these two novels have similarities, but enough differences to be unique in their own right.

A very different read, but one to be enjoyed nonetheless!


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  2. I like the concept of sticking entirely to the world view through the 12-year old - not filling in the blanks for us, just as they weren't filled if for him. Thanks for the introduction to this book!