Happy Friday, guys!
Today, we're reviewing The Penguin Lessons, an utterly charming book by debut novelist Tom Michell.
Tom recounts his adventures in the 1970s, when as a teacher at a preppy boarding school in Argentina, he ends up accidentally adopting a penguin.
I went into the story knowing I'd like it, but came out of the story absolutely won over, and feeling rather verklempt, to boot. Read on for why you need to read this book ASAP!
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published November 5th 2015 by Michael Joseph
Format read: Finished copy via publisher
I figured I would read an amusing tale about how debut author Tom Michell ended up with a penguin for a pet in 1970s Argentina, and everything that came along with that experience. What I didn't expect though, was just how deeply this book would end up moving me.
Michell takes us back to his early twenties, a time when he was working as a teacher at a boarding school for the elite in Argentina. By pure circumstance, he ends up rescuing and bringing home a feisty young penguin, whom he promptly names Juan Salvado or John Saved, but also Juan Salvador or John Savior.
While Juan Salvado is initially strictly viewed as an item of curiosity by the school staff and students, the black-and-white bird quickly ingrains himself into the heart of all those around him. Michell does a beautiful job of emphasizing the unique relationship that often develops between human and animal, detailing how many at the school begin to treat Juan Salvado as both confidant and friend.
Through the care of their new friend, many of those in Juan Salvado's circle - including Michell - are also gently coaxed into showcasing their best and true selves - e.g. a previously shy, young student, who learns how to stand out from the crowd. It's an effective reminder of the idea that sometimes, we each find motivation in the most unique of ways, and Michell shares that idea effectively.
While it's a bit of a unique writing choice, it's worth noting Michell's unique decision to include internal dialogue for Juan Salvdo. It helps the reader delve even deeper into how those around the penguin saw him, and emphasizes the depth of Michell's love for him. There was a line near the end that had me tearing up a little, which shows just how entwined I had become with their story.
With a nice mix of personal reminisces about both Juan Salvado and his travels around Latin America, a nod to Argentinian politics and penguin facts, Michell has written a book that delights, educates and ultimately wins over every heart.
Set against the backdrop of an Argentina that was equally undergoing a period of political and socio-economic change, Michell's book is a reminder on how life-changing relationships aren't just limited between humans. Often times, it's the most unusual of relationships which will end up touching people most deeply. Juan Salvado's time with Tom may have been brief, but ultimately ends up influencing both him and those around him, for many years to come.
I highly, highly recommend this book for all readers. This is a reminisce that will move you, and also make you feel extremely grateful for every life experience and every moment that you have.