When he was older, Vincent discovered that the boat picture was painted by Vincent Van Gogh, "down by the sea, just a few miles from where he was living, in a town called Arles." He learned from this book about Van Gogh from a bookstall in town. This created in Vincent a desire to see the places Van Gogh had visited and painted.
It was at this same time, while studying for his six form exams in his family's home in Watford, that Vincent discovered a note taped to the back of the Van Gogh picture. The note was from his grandparents, dated January 277, 1964. It told him that they visited "this beach in the Camargue region in the south of France, where Vincent Van Gogh had gone when he painted this picture."
Because of the boat painting and the note, Vincent decided to leave Watford after completing his exams and "follow the bend in the road". During the summer following exams, Vincent travelled to the Camargue in the south of France. While walking on "a causeway with pink lakes on both sides" with "flamingos nearby, strolling languidly through the shallows" Vincent became very ill and collapsed. He felt himself being carried and awoke to find himself in a small cottage. He meets Lorenzo, the tall man who found him and Kezia Charbonneau, who tells Vincent that she and Lorenzo are like brother and sister but are also best friends.
|Fishing Boats on the Beach at Sains-e Maries, June 1888.|
Gradually Vincent begins to recover, growing stronger from the rest, the delicious soups and crusty bread Kezia makes. Vincent also beings to understand Lorenzo more, how he speaks and his love of the flamingos. When he feels better, Vincent, in response to Kezia's questions, explains how he came to be wandering through the Camargue. This leads Kezia to begin to tell Vincent how she and Lorenzo who was known as Flamingo boy when he was little, met and how their lives became forever entwined. It is a story of friendship, trust and of mutual understanding.
Award-winning British author, Michael Morpurgo was inspired to write Flamingo Boy because of his grandson autism. A trip to the Camargue in the South of France was the inspiration for both the setting and the idea of an autistic boy who couldn't relate well to others, but understood the world of animals. Morpurgo then set his novel during the occupation of France by the Germans and wove into it the painting by Vincent Van Gogh. It is the main character and narrator, Vincent Montague's love of the painting that sends him on his journey at the age of eighteen to visit the Camargue and ultimately changes the course of his life.
Morpurgo employs two narrators, Vincent Montague who is narrating the story in the present about meeting Kezia and Lorenzo when he was eighteen years old in 1981, and Kezia Charbonneau who takes over the book's narration and relates the story of her youth during the 1940's in occupied France. Morpurgo uses Kezia's innocence of youth in her narrative to keep the horrors of the Holocaust and the discrimination of those who are different somewhat distant, almost impersonal, diminishing the emotional impact of the story. Kezia's mother warns her about the Germans in a general sort of way. "The Germans, they don't like Roma people, Kezia. I mean, more than most people they don't like us...They hate Jewish people too...Jewish people, Roma people -- the German's, the Milice, they want to be rid of us...And they hate children like Lorenzo too...Because he is different, Kezia --the same reason they hate us, and the Jews, because we are different." But the terror of the German occupation is diminished both by the isolation of the Sully farm and by the kindness of the local German Caporal.
Morpurgo uses the character of Caporal Willi Brenner, a teacher from Tubingen, Germany to demonstrate that not all German soldiers were Nazis. Many like Brenner were sometimes forced to fight against their will for the Third Reich. Brenner tells them that he was sent to Russia to fight, an experience so traumatic it turned his hair white and resulted in him losing toes due to frostbite. Brenner helps Kezia's family rebuild their carousel by bringing them wood which is scarce. He also helps both Kezia and Lorenzo's families by warning them about the Milice and the Gestapo, by having his soldiers block the road to the Sully farm so as to protect Kezia's from being taken by the Milice. Morpurgo often incorporates a sympathetic character in his novels to portray a more balanced approach, although the vast majority of German soldiers truly believed in what they were fighting for.
Flamingo Boy is classic Michael Morpurgo that most young readers, especially boys, will enjoy. Like most of Morpurgo's novels, the beautiful cover invites readers inside.Although Morpurgo delayed writing a novel that tackled the subject of autism because he felt he couldn't do it justice, he's done a fine job here. Lorenzo is an endearing character whose unusual ways help both Kezia and Willi Brenner learn to trust. Morpurgo's descriptions of a boy for whom trust and loyalty are paramount and who loves the flamingos of the Camargue, provide readers with a better understanding how someone with autism encounters the world in a way that is refreshing.
Flamingo Boy b Michael Morpurgo
London, England: HarperCollins Children's Books 2018