(I’m not sure if, when I purchased this book, I was thinking the island belonged to Madagascar or Mauritius or possibly the Comoros. But I was wrong. It’s classified as “France”. Please read anyway!)
This graphic novel knocked my socks off. Knocked. Them. Off. That’s right, I’m sitting here blogging to you barefoot, just like the sailors en route to Bourbon Island from Paris.
In 1730, an ornithologist named Robert (I called him Robear in my head) accompanies his mentor to Bourbon Island in the Caribbean. They’re looking for the dodo, even though the islanders tell them they haven’t seen one for 10 years. What they find is an island seething with intrigue. A pirate has been captured in nearby Madagascar and brought back to Bourbon to hang. His nickname is “the Buzzard”.
A Pirate’s Life For Thee
But there is something you may not know. Bourbon Island was settled by retired pirates–many of whom were granted amnesty in a 1704 deal with the governor. Some are Buzzard’s former crew, some are not fans of Governor Dumas…some have become coffee plantation owners and don’t want to upset the mango cart.
The island of the novel is a wonderful mix of pirates of many countries: French, Dutch, Swedish, English. There are free men and women of color, slaves from Madagascar and Mauritius, Maroons who have escaped slavery and live in free villages in the highlands.
(I got the impression of a very Disney-like Pirates of the Caribbean ride, which I’ve always loved. There’s even a scene where two ships are shooting at one another under the infamous Jolly Roger flag…)
I’ve read about the Maroons in other books, primarily in The Pirate’s Daughter (Jamaica). This book, however, finally told me that the name doesn’t have anything to do with The Color Purple. It comes from a French word meaning to revert to the wild. (Hence, shipwrecked sailors could be “marooned” on a desert island). Cool, huh?
What Was So Great About It
I love, love, LOVED the characters in this graphic novel. The geeky, naïve Robert, eager to hear pirate stories, is drawn as a big-billed bird that reminded me of Gyro Gearloose, the wacky inventor relative of Scrooge McDuck. The brave and beautiful slave Evangeline, who is hiding a dangerous secret.
The dread pirate (retired) Jo Pitre, a grumpy Scot who returns to his Madagascaran wife just in time to prevent her seduction by a skanky village priest. (“What? His wife is a woman of loose morals? Perhaps we should pay her a visit.” Ha ha ha.)
The illustrator Appollo can only be described as extremely talented, charming, eccentric, witty, quirky, unique…and of course, pictures are worth 1,000 words.
At the back, Trondheim has written “Notes” to the reader: About Libertalia, the Pirate Republic on Madagascar, (perhaps a myth put about by Daniel Defoe) about Interracial Mixing on Bourbon (permitted for decades, then outlawed), about a Governor Desforges-Boucher who served on Bourbon in 1724…
“The Governor clearly knew the various inhabitants of the island very well and painted a portrait of them that was exceptionally mean–as well as remarkably funny.” One of the things he says is that all buccaneers are given to swearing, since without it, they just wouldn’t be horrid enough. LOL
Wacky drawing and word humor aside, this is not a lighthearted, laugh-out-loud comic. The humor is sardonic, dark, and exceptionalloy dry.
Here is Robert arguing with Virginia, a young girl his party has found unconscious in the jungle.
Robert: “You’re mistaken about pirates. For the most part, they’re decent people. Their purpose is not looting, but living free. Have you heard of the pirate republic of Libertalia, in Madagascar? Can you imagine? A republic! No King. Living free.”
Virginia: “My father was a pirate, and he exploits over 200 slaves on his properties. For those slaves, freedom means something. Flesh-and-blood people who are oppressed, whipped, mutilated…not murderous pirates.”
Robert: “The crews of pirate ships were made up in large part of Negroes, you know. Former slaves, in fact. So you know, Miss Lesson-Giver, you should find out about things before bad-mouthing them. Without me and Jacques, you’d be carrion for vultures.”
Virginia: “There are no vultures on Bourbon, Mr. Ornithologist From Paris.”
RATING: Yo ho ho and 5 bottles of rum!
PS–Do whatever you can to get your hands on this book, me hearties! Just sayin’.