Author: Tom Michell
A wonderful cover, a warm holiday season and a novel like no other, mostly memoir, partly animal story, totally true suggests that The Penguin Lessons will be a wonderful read at this time of year — and it succeeds. Joyous, funny, humble, enigmatic, a falling into the heart type of story, I loved the Michell’s debut novel as much as I loved the Penguin, named Juan Salvador (John Saved).
Tom Michel is young (in his twenties) and looking for a job and an adventure; when he sees a chance to teach English in an elite Argentinian school he jumps. As any youth at 20, when he arrives he journeys around a bit and ends up on the coast on a beach in Uruguay. An oil spill has created a massive blanket of dead, oil covered penguins, and Tom feels sad as he wanders around the corpses – until he sees a penguin that is alive. He traps the penguin, takes it to his friends’ luxurious apartment that he is borrowing and screams when the penguin viciously bites him. He ties Juan’s beak and legs so that he can put him in the bidet, gathers up cleaning detergents and oils to waterproof the penguin after cleaning him, and suddenly Juan calms down enough to stop struggling and to start enjoying being cleaned. He and Tom have bonded!
The Penguin Lessons is a warm and unique story about an unlikely friendship between a man and a penguin, and fond memories of a long-ago trip to South America.
In his early twenties, Tom Michell sees an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a trip abroad to teach English in a school in Argentina and he takes it without thinking twice. Completely immersed in a radically different culture, he begins to explore South America full of wild enthusiasm and a sense of long-suppressed adventure. It is on an expedition to Uruguay that he encounters Juan Salvador the penguin.
Travelling to the coast, Michell comes across a flock of dead penguins on a beach as a result of an oil spill. Horrified, he spots a solitary waving wing, and comes to the rescue of Juan Salvador, the only surviving penguin on the beach. He proceeds to smuggle Juan across the Argentinian border and back to the school, where the penguin becomes an instant celebrity. Tom takes him to the school where he is teaching and Juan Salvador becomes a mascot and an exciting part of student and teacher life. As much a memoir of the times as well as a poignant tale of man and penguin, Michell depicts the vicious political turmoil existing in Argentina at the time and the horrible fears of a terrible economy on the peoples he meets and his students and friends in Argentina. As we come to the end of this lovely memoir, we also realize that Juan’s fellow penguins’ fates are due to the environmental disregard of all creatures of the sea in our chase for oil and money and our greed.
Simply a startlingly sweet and wonderful tale of a man and his penguin, a man and his adventures, a man in an exotic country and a man with a huge heart – as well as a narrative about the Argentina of its time in the past. Superb.
Ratings are based on a 5-star scale
Review by Broad “A”
We received a copy of this title for our book review. All opinions are our own
The Penguin Lessons: What I Learned from a Remarkable Bird is available for purchase on Amazon.com and your local bookseller.