Bet you’ve seen this one around…
The village of Ghalas-at is thrown into a state of excitement when a ship, red as the setting sun, sails up to their island. Karana, daughter of the village chief is no less curious – or suspicious – than the rest of her people. Are those aboard the ships their friends or enemies?
The commander of the ship – Captain Orlov – seems friendly. He is a Russian and he has come to ask Karan’s father for permission to hunt otter on their island. Karan’s father agrees to let him hunt their otter if the Aleuts will agree to give them half the skins. Captain Orlov growls in complaint and agrees to the bargain. But the men of Ghalas-at do not trust these Aleuts. They send spies to watch the Aleuts camp and report their movemts. And it was well that they did, for one morning the news came that the Aleuts were packing up their camp and preparing to leave – without paying for the otters.
The villagers protest; the Aleuts answer in bullets and knives. Many warriors fall, Karana’s father among them, and the Aleuts depart from their shores without paying for the beautiful otter skins they collected. The villagers bewail their dead and fear the future. Will the Aleuts return to destroy them all? They are not ready to take that chance. They prepare to depart for the island of Santa Catalina where they will be safe from the Aleuts. But just as the ships are pulling away, Karana misses her little brother, Ramo. She cannot find him anywhere. And if he’s not on the ship….. he must still be on the island!
Karana throws herself into the water and swims furiously to shore. Ramo is safe, but now they are both abandoned. Will the ship ever return for Karana and Ramo? And even if it does, will they be able to survive that long?
Scott O’Dell wrote this book in what I would call a ‘religiously accurate’ style. By this I mean that he includes the pagan beliefs of Karana and her people. For example…
When Karana’s father introduces himself to the white men, Karana writes,
I was surprised that he gave his real name to a stranger. Everyone in our tribe had two names, the real one which was secret and was seldom used, and one which was common, for if people use your secret name it becomes worn out and loses its magic. [pg. 5]
Later she claims that it is because he used his secret name that he was killed.
Karana writes briefly of a powerful medicine man who controlled the wind and seas before his death.
Karana refers to different things as ‘good omens’.
Karana briefly mentions a legend about two gods who quarreled with one another.
Karana claims that she once saw a spirit.
Towards the end of the book, Karana decides not to kill any more animals because, “animals and birds are like people, too, though they do not talk the same or do the same things.” [pg. 156]
Before she leaves the island, Karana’s sister, Ulape draws lines on her cheeks, indicating that she is unmarried. These lines are supposed to work magic and gain her a husband.
Scott O’Dell emphasized the savagery of nature in Island of the Blue Dolphins. He describes battles between rival animals with a bloody frankness. I don’t think I cringed while reading his descriptions, but they made me feel pain and pity for the losing animal. I think what bothered me the most about the violence is not that it was there, but that it was described in a non-emotional, ‘this is normal’, ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ manner.
Conclusion. Island of the Blue Dolphins is definitely for more mature readers.
Review © 2013 Laura Verret