The Dolphin People by Torsten Krol
Weird book. Seriously, weird. Don’t believe me? Let me tell you a little bit about the plot.
World War II has just ended, and Erich and his younger brother Yeppi and his mother are leaving Germany, headed for Venezuela. Erich’s father died fighting for the Third Reich in Russia and his uncle bachelor uncle Klaus wrote to Erich’s mother, offering to marry her, so they are off to meet him in South America. When they arrive in Ciudad Bolivar, though, they discover that their mother and Klaus will have to marry under an assumed name, because Klaus is ‘on a list’ of people who did bad things during the war. The thought that his uncle did bad things during the war doesn’t phase Erich, though, because he was a big fan of Hitler and completely bought into the idea that the Jews are a drain on society.
Erich and his brother accept their uncle as their new father and got on a plane – for the first time! – with him to travel out to where Klaus would be working as the doctor of an oil field. As they fly over the jungle, though, a storm comes up unexpectedly and forces them to land in the river. After a hard night in the jungle, Erich’s family is discovered by a tribe of native Amazonians who, having never seen white men before, mistake them for freshwater dolphins who have temporarily become human.
There really is a lot going on in this novel: the attitudes of Nazis and Nazi sympathizers, communication problems, culture clash, grief, teenage hormones, you get the picture. My biggest issue with the book was that it was occasionally crude, particularly in terminology for genitalia. However, although it bothered me, I was able to attribute it to the sixteen year old male narrator, so it didn’t seem particularly gratuitous. The writing was gorgeous and the pacing of the novel worked well for me. It was occasionally odd to contrast the beauty of the writing with the brutality of the events of the book, but it seemed to be an intentional thing.
Even better than the writing was watching Erich grow as a person, becoming more aware of the reality of the world around him and more willing to challenge what he was being told by those in a position of authority, as well as to accept people for who they are, whether they are Germans, Jews, or Yayomi. In some ways, this is really a coming of age story.
Highly recommended, but not for the squeamish or easily offended.