It is the summer of 1912 in a fishing village on the Danish coast, where visitors while away the long, light-filled days. For twelve-year-old Malte, it is a summer of freedom and discovery. He roams the beaches and observes the complicated lives of the adults around him. To escape their dramas, he retreats into a fantasy world of his own making, where ships sail to exotic lands. But when one day he trips over a salt-eaten coffin, washed up on the shore, and finds inside the body of a dead sailor, the voice that whispers in Malte's ear starts to take on a life of its own. It tells the secret story of the amber collector who made his fortune combing the beach for sea gold.
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Ib Michael's Prince is the story of a poor, illiterate child from the city sent to the Danish coast to be a "summer boy" at a seaside resort. Masterfully translated from the Danish by Barbara Haveland, this is a subtly bewitching novel in which everything pulses with the promise of enchantment. On the beach, 12-year-old Malte entertains himself for hours, as only a deeply neglected child can:
He lays starfish in the bottom of the jar and holds them up to the sky. Slowly he turns in a circle, leaving a wreath of sunflower petals in the sand with the soles of his feet, puts his eye to the bottom, and uses the jelly jar as a stargazer. Dissolved in light, he watches the galaxies whirling through space.Malte dreams of ships, glaciers, long trips down the Amazon where dolphins live in the trees. He has a guardian angel who narrates much of the story, but whose existence is so tentative there is no question that he is powerless over the boy's fate, unable to intervene when the boy stumbles into dangerous circumstances.
As the tale of an orphan, Prince evokes that free-floating homesickness that beautiful places can evoke in rootless people. It brings to mind Hubert Fichte's The Orphanage, a little known but equally memorable book. Both are novels of childhood in which the child is abandoned, waiting on the shore of history for a wave to wash him out to sea. Born into harsh circumstances, these children have already realized that the world is a merciless place. As characters, they are free of the naiveté that so many childhood novels are rotten with. It is up to Malte to make sense of the world, to see a dead man and realize that "the living take their color from the blood." That's childlike wisdom in the best possible sense. --Emily WhiteAbout the Author:
Ib Michael is one of Denmark's foremost writers. The author of more than twenty books, he has traveled throughout the world. Prince is his first novel to be published in the United States. He lives in Copenhagen.
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