1942. The south of France. In the unique landscape of the Camargue, a young autistic boy, Lorenzo, lives among the salt flats and the flamingos. There are lots of things he doesn’t understand – but he does know how to heal animals, how to talk to them – the flamingos especially. He loves routine, and music too, and every week he goes to the market with his mother. It’s there he meets Kezia, a Roma girl, who helps her parents run their carousel – and who shows him how to ride the wooden horse as the music plays.
But then the German soldiers come, with their guns. Everything is threatened; everything is falling apart: the carousel, Kezia and her family, even Lorenzo’s beloved flamingos.
Having recently been to see the theatre production of Michael Morpurgo’s bestseller Warhorse, I thought it was about time I picked up some more of his work. Flamingo Boy is Morpurgo’s most recent release, set against the backdrop of WW2. It tells the story of Kezia, a Romany gypsy girl, and Lorenzo, an autistic boy with little speech but a lot of heart. Kezia and her family run the town’s much-loved Charbonneau carousel – a blaze of music, colour and lights – and it is here that she meets Lorenzo, an autistic boy obsessed by the flamingos that crown the frieze of the carousel. The pair quickly become good friends, drawn together by ostracisation.
A little later on in the story, the Germans arrive and Kezia’s family take refuge on Lorenzo’s farm. When a storm rages and the carousel is damaged, everyone is devastated, including an invading German soldier named Caporal Willi Brenner. Morpurgo goes on to show that not all German soldiers were Nazis; not all German soldiers were evil. As explained in Morpurgo’s blurb, there are kind people even among soldiers, and there is always hope; what is broken can always be mended.
This isn’t just ‘another Morpurgo war book’ but a beautiful tale of friendship and hope. Michael Morpurgo has a wonderful talent for giving historic tragedies a human face. In reading Kezia and Lorenzo’s story, we realise that underneath the horrors of war children were still chasing flamingos and riding the carousel.
A superb binge-read with the perfect end!
The guns had fallen silent. Lorenzo was lost in wonder at the flocks of flamingos that filled the sky above us. ‘Fly, flamingo, fly!’ he said.