Friday, March 2, 2012
Island of the Blue Dolphins (1961)
I have to start by saying that writing a review of a book a month after finishing it, while having read a couple of others in-between, is not ideal. I really need to recommit to my project.
Island of the Blue Dolphins did not seem to me, as a child, a book I would enjoy, so this is my first time reading it despite the surprise I have gotten from people who know I love to read but had not read this one.
Karana lived with her family and tribe on an isolated island in the Pacific Ocean. They sometimes were taken advantage of by hunters who would hunt the sea otters, and this lead to conflict and bloodshed. Mostly the islander's. When a ship came to the island offering to take the whole tribe to a much safer and predictable place to live, the tribe decided to leave. But on the day of departure, a storm was brewing. Karana's younger brother, Ramo, went back for his spear (or something) and he got left on the island. She couldn't bear to leave him alone there, so jumped off the ship and swam back to the island thinking the ship would come back soon for the two of them.
On their second day alone wild dogs killed Ramo. Now 12-year-old Karana was on her own. She had to build a shelter, find food, make weapons, protect herself from the dogs. She captured one of the dogs and tamed it so that she would have some companionship.
She had to be very resourceful in every aspect of her solitary life on the island, which lasted for 18 years before another ship came and found her. In all those 18 years she interacted only once with people who had come to the island. They were hunters and she didn't trust them, so she only befriended the woman brought with them to cook, but did not make herself known to the men.
When a ship finally came that she felt good about, she met the men, ready to go. When the men spoke to her, she did not understand anything, but here are her thoughts, "I shook my head and smiled at him. He spoke again, slowly this time, and though his words sounded the same as before and meant nothing to me, they now seemed sweet. They were the sound of a human voice. There is no sound like this in all the world." (p. 178)
Karana did now dwell on her loneliness. She lived life in the best way she could on her own and did not complain or think of the "unfairness" of her situation.
I liked Island of the Blue Dolphins better than I expected. It doesn't drag as I thought it would and I enjoyed it even more when I learned that the story is based on a true story. In the author's note at the end of the book, Scott O'Dell wrote, "The girl Robinson Crusoe whose story I have attempted to re-create actually lived alone upon this island from 1835-1853, and is known to history as The Lost Woman of San Nicolas." He then sketches the brief facts known about her.
O'Dell, Scott. Island of the Blue Dolphins. Random House, 1960.