Sir Michael Morpurgo’s most recent novel, Boy Giant: Son of Gulliver, is a beautiful yet incredibly poignant sequel to Jonathon Swift’s classic, Gulliver’s Travels. The novel focuses on 12 year old, Afghan refugee Omar on a journey from his war-torn home to the sanctuary of England, during which he washes ashore on Lilliput, the island of little people from the original tale.
Boy Giant begins in the protagonist’s home town, a small village in rural Afghanistan. Soon however, war reaches Omar’s home and his life is shattered by the death of his father and his missing sister, leaving his mother and him to flee their smoldering ruins. Trapped in a sinking rubber dinghy in a violent storm and separated from his mother, Omar fears for his life as the waves crash over his head, the chapter ending in darkness. Omar awakens on a beach to find himself surrounded by the little Lilliputians and instead of a hostile introduction, he is greeted with open arms and kindness. A friendship develops between Omar, now nicknamed ‘Owzat’ after an initial misunderstanding, and the people of Lilliput. Omar’s new adoptive family feed, care for and teach him English and in return he teaches first the children, and then all of Lilliput, how to play cricket. After spending four years on Lilliput and resolving the issues with the neighbouring island of Blufescu, Owzat sets sail for England with his two miniature friends and, after some more misadventures, is finally reunited with his family safely in England.
Though this book is written for children and, like many of Morpurgo’s stories is filled with humour and happiness, the story can easily resonate with adult readers about current debates on immigration in Britain and around the globe. The distressing section in which our protagonist makes peace with his supposedly impending death makes the numerous news reports of similar situations for refugees all the more vivid and heart-wrenchingly depressing. Upon reading the introduction to the following chapter, where Omar comes to wakes up on the beach of Lilliput, one cannot help but think back to the tragic death of Alan Kurdi, the 3 year old Syrian boy washed ashore on a beach in Turkey in 2015. Indeed, reading Boy Giant as an adult, the stark reality of asylum and war in this novel is made all the more harsh against the light humoured voice of child. Whilst the majority of the story is heartwarming and amusing, this retelling continues to play on the satirical commentary established in Swift’s novel, on the fickleness and destructive nature of people, of which Morpurgo is known to also frequently discuss in interviews.
Speaking at this year’s Isle of Wight Literary Festival, Morpurgo retold a personal story which inspired Boy Giant, when he met a group of orphaned, Afghan refugees who, like Omar, loved cricket. Morpurgo is as charismatic a speaker as he is a writer and his inspirational story of this group of young boys winning every single game of cricket against teams all across Devon was not only hilarious but reinforced the idea Morpurgo was trying to get across, that no matter where we are from, we are not so different. The speech ended with the author getting the audience, a total of around 300 people aged from a few months to ninety years old, to sing and parted with the phrase “be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise”.
Without question, Morpurgo writes beautifully, a testament obvious by his multitude of awards and a collection of novels spanning over 40 years. Yet the importance of the problems raised in his stories are never drowned out by his wonderful prose. I have no doubt that this book will become a classic among Morpurgo’s novels and with children’s stories all together but perhaps, this book should be picked up by more than a few adults as well.
Review by : Jesse Mackinnon
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