REVIEW: The Penguin Lessons

EVERY so often you come across a surprising read, a book you’ve never heard of by an author you don’t know and as you dive into it, it feels like you are wrapped in a blanket in front of a warm fire on a cold day and eating toasted crumpets.

The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell is just such a book.

I picked up my copy in a charity shop drawn to both the title (I’ve bought several books with the word Penguin in the title recently) and also the cover, which I think is whimsical and charming and I love the muted colours. I think I paid £2 for this gem.

Published by Penguin (well who else could it have been?), The Penguin Lessons is the true story of a young Englishman teaching in a boarding school in Buenos Aires in the 1970s who is on holiday in Uruguay when he comes across hundreds of dead penguins washed up on a beach after being caught in an oil slick.

Among the carnage is one penguin who is still alive, just, but who is covered in sticky oil and doesn’t look as though he will last long. Tom rescues him, takes him back to the flat he has borrowed and cleans him. That makes the task sound simple, but the process is not without difficulty… and pain.

He does, however, succeed in removing the oil but when he tries to return his new-found friend to the ocean, the bird absolutely refuses to go. Every time Tom tries to encourage him into the water, the penguin comes back to shore and follows him up the beach.

As he has to return to Buenos Aires the following day, Tom decides there is nothing for it but to attempt to smuggle the penguin into Argentina, take it home and worry about what to do with it later. He is hoping he will be able to persuade a zoo to house him.

There follows the story of Tom, the penguin and the staff and pupils of the boarding school where Tom teaches – a yarn that includes rugby, swimming lessons, parties, confidences and many, many trips to the market to buy fish as the bond between man and penguin grows.

Beautifully written, this book really took me by surprise with not only it’s charm but the wealth of information about Argentina’s recent history, politics, economics, geography, flora and fauna. But at the heart of it, I defy anyone not to fall in love with this penguin and his incredible relationship with Tom and other characters in the story.

I absolutely loved The Penguin Lessons and would wholeheartedly recommend it if you are looking for something heart-warming, incredible and true. It’s an utter delight.

The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell was published in 2015 and is still available on Amazon here.

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