Monday, May 20, 2013

W20: The Kingfishers

After ten weeks of non-fiction I was ready for a change and the Biblio-Mat did not fail to deliver. A nice step up from the educational texts I’ve received in the last two months, this week’s book was a joy to both read and look at.

Thankfully not a biology book.
With a perfectly angular bound card-material cover and one hundred thick ivory interior pages, The Kingfishers by Karel Nový not only looked great, it also felt good to flip through.  Originally published in 1963 in Czechoslovakia, this was a 1968 first printing of it in English, translated by Peter Avis and Jiřina Tvarochová. Most impressive about this book is the abundance of watercolour paintings by Mirko Hanák decorating the head of each chapter with full page spreads scattered throughout. Vibrant with a hint of abstraction, it elevated the book to a whole new level.

Gorgeous watercolours, angry-esque birds.
The Kingfishers was a dramatic tale of two kingfishers struggling to raise a family against a host of odds. Written in the point of view of the birds, it reimagined what life would be like in a forest if all the birds communicated as one society, complete with politics, hierarchies, and status discrimination.

The story follows Or and Kik, two young kingfishers embarking on a journey at the end of winter to find a new home to raise their soon to be laid eggs. Due to habitat destruction both by nature and by man, they’re forced to relocate throughout the riverlands and learn to deal with the other birds in the environment. Written for a young audience, it was more like The Secret of NIMH than Red Wall, but it was nonetheless an enjoyable read.

Game of Branches.
Strewn with philosophical ideals and musings, the writing style of The Kingfishers stretched to preach in a few areas but ultimately it’s a tale of how all beings should live in harmony. Funny enough, this is contradicted with the character of the eagle-owl who becomes villainized for eating other birds. While one of the kingfishers acknowledges that they too take lives as part of the food chain, it suddenly becomes a moral issue when an animal arrives to prey on them even though it was, and always has been, a part of the natural cycle of life in the forest.

Sociopath critters.
While I like to take most books at face value, part of me wonders about how much the communist regime in Czechoslovakia and the cold war fears in nearby Russia were interwoven into the struggle of the kingfishers. Banding together and working towards a single goal are reoccurring themes in the story along with sharing resources for a greater good. Coming together to overthrow superior powers ruling over them, is common in a lot of stories but in this one it is drilled in constantly. While not quite Animal Farm, I do think there’s still something deeper to be read in the tale.

Book rating: 9/10 (The art really sells this book)

Random quote: “He began to eat, and after a while he became used to the cage, too. The man succeeded in taming him even to eat from his hand. The eagle-owl became dull and stupid, like anyone who has lost his freedom for a long time.” (Life lessons)

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