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Book Review: The Dolphin People by Torsten Krol

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Torsten Krol is a fairly new writer, but he's caused positive waves since his arrival with the novel The Dolphin People. Since then he's also published Callisto, and he has not done any public appearances. There are some rumors he might be another author hiding behind a pseudonym, but there is no proof of that so far. The Dolphin People has recently been released as a paperback. Set post-World War II, it features a family of former Nazi-sympathizers who go on a journey in Venezuela. After a horrible accident they are forced to live with natives of the jungle.

Erich is the teenage protagonist of The Dolphin People, a 16-year-old German whose father just died while serving in the Nazi army. His uncle Klaus decided to do the right thing for the family by offering to marry his brother's widow. Erich and his little brother Zeppi fly to Venezuela with their mother and attend the small, private wedding ceremony. Klaus is a handsome and well spoken man, supposedly a doctor, who changes the family name since they might be on lists of wanted Nazis. He buys a plane trip out to a new job, but the plane crashes on the way there and only the four of them survive. Not long after, as they wait for rescue, they are found by naked and dangerous-looking natives who escort them to the village in the jungle.

There they meet another white man, an intellectual named Gerhard, who has been with the tribe for many years. He tells them that the natives believe they are dolphin spirits turned into humans, and they had better play along if they wanted to live. Erich finds this something of an adventure, slowly starting to get comfortable in his new surroundings by shedding his own clothes and befriending the hunters. He finds love (or lust) with a native girl, learns a disturbing secret about his little brother Zeppi, starts to understand where the Nazi party went wrong, and watches his mother's sanity slowly drain away. By the end of the book Erich is changed, no longer the arrogant and brainwashed boy he once was, and with family ripped to shreds he must learn to decide for himself what is right.

This is an interesting and disturbing tale, and it mixes a coming-of-age story with a historical setting. It is written in the first person as Erich's story, so the reader gets to clearly see the journey, especially in his feeling toward his uncle Klaus and the Nazi party he worships. Erich is not necessarily a good boy by any means; he can be very selfish and arrogant, and he does not often think ahead. Like any teenager he makes mistakes, but in this case the consequences can be dire. The details of how each person in his family unit manage to break apart due to their capture is downright fascinating, and it is probably best that we see the story from the only one that manages to stay completely sane.

The back states that it is a black comedy, but there was nothing particularly funny about the book, nor did there need to be. The narrator may have occasionally found things to laugh about in his very dire situation, but for the reader it is a tense experience. We wait for the inevitable trouble to start, whether it is when the natives realize they are not dolphins or if they do try to escape, and Gerhard's original choice to stay and live there might have been the wisest option. The Dolphin People is somewhat of an obscure and fantastical story, but it still draws a reader in through sheer curiosity. None of the characters are particularly likable, although they are understandable. Man turning animal in extreme cases of fight or flight is not a new theme, but it works even now because analyzing human nature will never get boring.

The Dolphin People is available in paperback now in stores everywhere. It is an adult book with language, violence, and references to sex and nudity. This book may appeal to fans of stories like Lord of the Flies, but with a Nazi spin.

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