While the Fantail Lives by Alan Titchall
Updated: Aug 27, 2020
While the Fantail Lives is narrated by eleven-year-old Bob Smith on the eve of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. He lives in a small hydro village in New Zealand, with a colourful collection of local characters. There his Nan, who is a great cook and even better storyteller, who is looking after him and his dad, after his mother suddenly left. There’s Kurt Smidt, who is teaching him German and telling him his war stories. There is Mrs Poi, who is teaching him Maori. There’s Frank, a young American, who turns up on his motorbike. And there’s Ivan Volkov, a Russian with a terrible past. Young Bob is caught up in an adult world with troubling secrets and while he is nurtured by relatives and befriended by residents, we learn they have their own agendas.
What is worse, at the beginning of this fateful weekend, Robert finds an injured fantail, the bird associated with death. While nursing the fantail, Robert finds himself caught up in an unfolding drama that involves more than a nuclear threat, as an incident at the end of the War returns to shatter the village peace.
This is a beautifully written anti-war story, with a cast of characters that brilliantly come to life and leap off the page. I enjoyed the slow reveal of all the ways various villagers are linked to each other from their pasts. It’s a literary read that celebrates New Zealand while weaving in a story of World War II. While the Fantail Lives is exceptionally well done.
Reviewer: Karen McMillan
Devon Media, RRP $24.95