Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Benjamin Dove

Benjamin Dove
by Friðrik Erlings
Recommended Ages: 10+

Benjamin, Jeff, and their somewhat younger friend Manny all live in the same ordinary neighborhood. Together they play ordinary games and try to avoid ordinary bullies, until a new friend moves to town: a Scottish boy named Roland, who doesn't care about football or other sports, but who inspires them with an interest in chivalry. The boys invent their own order of knighthood, fit themselves with appropriate costumes, and begin practicing swordplay in the park with wooden weapons and shields painted with their own heraldic devices - a two-headed eagle for Jeff, a lion for Roland, a unicorn for Manny, and yes, a dove for Benjamin.

Then their harmless little gang gets into trouble with a not-so-harmless one. A bully named Howie the Hood takes offense at them, commits an act of sickening cruelty, and suffers the vengeance of the young knights. Things don't get really confusing, though, until Howie the Hood risks his life to save Granny Adele, who is like a grandma to everyone in the neighborhood. While Howie rethinks his way of life and the other boys start a good-works campaign to benefit Granny Adele, a quarrel between the boys and a power vacuum in the bully's gang lead to the founding of a rival order of knights. When the Order of the Black Feather challenges Benjamin and his friends to a rumble, the weaknesses in even the best of boys combine to turn a well-intended game of make-believe into a vehicle for tragedy.

I could feel the heartbreak coming from a long way off, but the eloquently simple writing of this beautiful story pulled me along until its shape was revealed. My only quibble is that I thought the ending may be too abrupt, letting the main character get off too easily. It would have been interesting to see the consequences of the tragic climax explored in more detail. But maybe I'm a glutton for punishment.

This gentle, intriguingly structured story, written partly in Benjamin's first-person voice and partly in the third person, is the work of an Icelandic author sometimes cited as Fridrik Erlingsson. I think he writes primarily in Icelandic, but I could find no information about who (other than the author himself) might have translated this book into English. All I know about Erlingsson is that he used to play in a band featuring Bjork, that he writes screenplays for the Icelandic film industry, and that two more of his books are available in English: Fish in the Sky and Boy on the Edge.

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