The Back of the Turtle - Thomas King

“And he was rude,” said her mother. “Told us that stories about women falling out of the sky were inappropriate in an educational setting.”

“Pregnant women falling out of the sky,” corrected Mara’s grandmother. “Rose was always specific about that detail.”

“Then he went on and told us about that naked couple in that garden,” said her mother.

Mara’s grandmother pursed her lips. “After that, it got ugly.”


It is not often that I come across a book that appeals to me on so many levels; a book that makes me laugh and makes me think; that has me in despair over mankind and, yet, leaves a lot of room for hope.


The story, or rather stories, of The Back of the Turtle deal with the aftermath of an environmental disaster, referred to as The Ruin. Bit by bit, the individual stories of the characters reveal how the Ruin was caused and how the characters were involved in or affected by it.  


We get to meet Gabriel who attempts to end his life but instead ends up rescuing a girl from drowning in the sea. We meet Sonny, a boy who has lost his dad and spends his solitary days looking for salvage. We meet Mr Crisp, who is an old sea-dog and a storyteller. We meet Mara, an artist who returns to the reserve only to be confronted with the loss of her family. And we meet Dorian, the CEO, who is the loneliest of all of them. 


Even though it might sound like a depressing plot, I loved being transported into the world of this story. King’s writing was superbly observant of his characters’ moods, and this in turn was expressed in some great dialogues. His mocking portrayal of the hapless corporate machine made me laugh out loud quite a few times.

In contrast to this, he created the group of downbeat underdogs, who despite the devastation caused by the Ruin don’t give up searching for ways to return to their way of life. Again, I would have expected this aspect to be quite somber, and while it did make me think, King kept the plot spirited and quite fun – after all, the events described in The Back of the Turtle ring true enough, are real enough, that they might happen any day, and what could possible be more serious than that? 


“THE light vanished, and the colours dimmed and died on the canvas. Mara put the brush down. She hadn’t accomplished much, but tomorrow she would do a little more. And, after that, a little more. Until Lily and Rose and baby Riel came back to life.


There it was.

Standing at the easel, looking at what she had created, Mara realized that she might have found a purpose, something that would help her make the world whole again.”

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