CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 13 . . . . March 4, 2005
Meanwhile there is also Wittgenstein the budgerigar. Wittgenstein was the greatly-adored pet of Henry Harley, a professor of languages who brought up his budgie to speak numerous languages. Wittgenstein was Professor Harley's dearest friend, and, as such, he was duly pampered -pampered but confined to life inside a cage, nonetheless. When Wittgenstein one day finds himself able to sneak out of his cage and out an open window, he finally gets his first taste of freedom. And then he discovers just what it is that he has missed all this time! When he encounters his good friend, the Professor, some weeks later, he uses his well-developed language skills to explain that he does not like cages and that, while freedom of speech may be the first freedom, "the freedom to come and go is the best freedom."
But the goshawk and the budgie are destined to meet, to meet and become friends, and to work together to find their way home, back to the people who love them.
This charming modern fable is truly a story for all ages. In fact, adults are perhaps more likely than children to be moved by the gentle insights that this little book affords its readers on life and love and being true to oneself. Yet the story is told simply, in a style that makes the reader feel as though the author is telling the story directly to him or to her. As such, it would make a delightful read-aloud, a lovely story for families with children of different ages to share. Youngsters will enjoy the story's endearing characters, particularly its two winged protagonists who are so delightfully portrayed. Even the human characters, in spite of their more limited roles in the story, are rendered in a way that allows them to be seen as realistically flawed. For example, Prince Vasily's father is a gambler and a fairly useless aristocrat. However, he still gives his son the gift of a lifetime when he gives him Astur and then patiently guides him in his understanding of this magnificent creature. Similarly, though the professor does not immediately recognize the injustice of keeping his animal friend locked in a cage, Wittgenstein is able to make him see. And he is willing to try again to be a better friend. While the human sufferings and travails in the book are subtle and understated (eg. Prince Vasily's flight from his home to more modest circumstances in America, his decision to release Astur, even his dismissal from his job as a doorman), they add to the book’s poignancy and depth, and they will provide opportunities for discussion with younger readers. It is a book that, in its simplicity, calls attention to what is beautiful in the world, and what is truly important.
Not unlike The Little Prince by St. Exupery, this book will undoubtedly strike a chord with its readers. It is beautifully told and conveys simple but universal truths in a simple but meaningful way. While it may not fly off library shelves, those who do pick it up will be touched by it.
Lisa Doucet is a children's bookseller at Woozles in Halifax, NS.
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