Book review

The Wreck of the Zanzibar by Michael Morpurgo (1995)

Bryher is one of the Isles of Scilly. It's a very tiny island, and it is very hard work trying to scratch a living there.

Laura Perryman's family has always lived on Bryher. She lives with her twin brother, Billy, and her mother and father, and her Granny May. They have four milking cows, which is enough to keep the entire population of the island supplied with milk. Of course, almost evey family keeps a fishing boat. The sea feeds the people of Bryher. But can you imagine how it must feel to grow up in such a tiny community, working so hard and having so little? Billy, fourteen years old and bored with the unending milking routine, is feeling the strain.

So, when the General Lee bound for New York calls at St Mary's for repairs to the mizzen mast Billy secures his passage as a cabin boy. He has left the islands before his parents know anything about it. Laura has lost her twin brother. She is devastated. Her parents are also devastated. They have lost their only son. And ill fortune besets the family. They lose their cows. It's a very bad time. Everyone is hungry and families start to drift away from Bryher.

When Granny May had gone up to bed this evening Father said, 'It's like the beginning of the end. In a few years' time Bryher will be like Samson and Tean, abandoned and deserted, left to the rabbits and the birds.'
He cried and I knew I didn't hate him any more, I knew I loved him still. Mother won't cry. I've never seen Mother cry. She put her arms around Father and held him, and that's the first time she's done that since Billy left.

One distraction for Laura is the turtle that she finds washed up on the beach. In an attempt to salvage something joyful out of the misery around her she nurses the turtle back to health, with the help of her Granny May, and releases him back to the ocean. This turtle, at least, will not be turtle stew! Perhaps the sea can remember and repay a generous and selfless act?

Now, certain inevitable consequences flow from living on a little rocky outcrop in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. One consequence is that in a bad autumn storm almost every building on the island can be knocked flat in a single night. Another consequence is that if a ship gets into difficulties in your local waters you will naturally turn out in atrocious conditions to rescue the survivors. And a final consequence is that if there is a wreck on your rocks you will get an unlooked-for bounty which will see you through an otherwise unbearable winter season.

Read this book. I think you will really enjoy it. It is an emotional story of hardship and bravery. See how the men of Bryher launch their gig in a terrible storm to rescue shipwrecked sailors. See how Laura has to take her father's place at the oars when he is injured. And see how the sea gives back to Laura exactly what she prayed for.

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