Saturday, August 27, 2016

Close to the Wind by Jon Walter

One reviewer quoted, on the first pages of this book, says "I read it in one sitting".  I am sure you will too. My local bookshop staff have mentioned Close to the Wind to me several times.  I think it was the focus for their family book discussion group.

When people say to me "oh you only read 'kids' books" I usually smile and say yes!  But later I think does this make me less of a reader somehow?  Close to the wind is a book I now need to carry in my head or bag.  When someone claims 'kids books' are somehow lesser or lower than those written for 'grownups' this is the book I know will totally debunk this myth. I would love to be able to place a copy straight into their hands.

I loved Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett. Close to the Wind has a similar, if less confronting, feel. It is a totally absorbing story and I know my walk in the shoes of this little boy will linger with me for a long time.

Malik and his family are living through the horror of a war. Papa rescues Malik from a wardrobe where his mother has hidden him. He has hastily gathered things into a rucksack.

"Papa had made a game of packing.  ... He had got Malik to go around the house and find things for him. The string. The tools. The gaffer tape. They might all come in useful ... "

On their third night on the run the pair take shelter in an abandoned and looted house.  While they are there they are visited by two men.  Malik's grandfather Salvatore Bartholomew knows these men. Malik watches the adults talk.  At one point they each take out the money they are carrying.  Jon Walter is such a skilled writer you can almost feel the atmosphere change.  One of the men suggests this will not be any where near enough money to pay for a passage on the ship which will carry them to safety but Salvatore is not worried because he has something even more precious.  You will gasp as he reveals this to the two men.

We never find out the time or place for this story of war, terror and violence but the way Jon Walter takes us inside the mind of little Malik - sharing his rapid thoughts of worry and optimism - mean that you very quickly stop trying to link these events with any real time in world history. Here is an example of the way Malik thinks through the events that threaten to overwhelm him :

"The ship was getting ready to leave and he was on his own.  What if Mama was already on board like Papa had said? What if he had missed Papa as well? Perhaps Papa was looking for him now, searching the queues at the front of the quay? He should have done what Papa told him and stayed exactly where he was. He stared at the red door of the Port Authority building, deciding whether to go in."

Here is a video of the author talking about his book and here he reads the first few pages.  Here is an extract you can read and an interview with the author.  If I have not convinced you to read this book then take a look at this review.

In Close to the Wind, Jon Walter reveals the rare ability to create totally believable characters and settings in few words and with great simplicity. His prose is almost invisible: nothing comes between the reader and the book's action and emotion.

The roller-coaster ride of experiences and emotions, taking Malik and readers from fear, despair, loss, and grief to love and hope, is accurately drawn.

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