Book review: ‘Brothers of the Fire Star’

Special to The Recorder

“Brothers of the Fire Star” by Douglas Arvidson (Crossquarter Publishing Group, 209 pages, $15.95)

“Brothers of the Fire Star” combines history, spirituality and specialized knowledge to move its reader with a plea for cross-racial unity and love of nature. The book will appeal to children from middle school up as well as to adults.

Author Douglas Arvidson grew up in Ashfield and now lives in coastal Virginia. In 1997, he and his wife, both teachers, found work in a school on the island of Guahan (Guam), an American territory in the western Pacific Ocean.

Long-time sailors, they lived on a sailboat during their 11 years there. Arvidson soon became a member of an organization dedicated to resurrecting the centuries-old Pacific-Island method of navigation. Practitioners of this art are trained to study the stars, the sea swells and wildlife in order to make their way through the sea.

Arvidson puts his knowledge of navigation and nature to good use in “Brothers of the Fire Star.” The book begins in December 1941, just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when the Japanese invade Guahan.

Joseph, a 12-year-old boy from Massachusetts who has been living on the island with his uncle, hides in the woods during the attack and thus avoids the slaughter that claims his uncle and many of the island’s inhabitants.

While taking shelter in a tree, Joseph is visited by spirits who tell him that he is destined to sail away from Guahan with a boy named Napu. Together they will learn “the ways of the ancient navigators” and eventually return to Guahan to bring back those ways, now forgotten.

Napu, who is just about to escape from the war-torn island by boat, reluctantly takes the American boy along on his voyage. Together they learn to sail, learn about war and learn how to get along despite the differences in their backgrounds.

Arvidson’s prose in the book is matter of fact, letting the story shine through relatively simple words. His young heroes grow up before the reader’s eyes.

The boys are shocked by the devastation of battle they encounter. Nevertheless, their growing bond and their study of navigation teach them that friendship and communion with nature can transcend war and death.

“Brothers of the Fire Star” isn’t always a happy book. It is set in an unhappy time and place. Nevertheless, its story is touching. And its plea for interracial cooperation and respect for tradition is beautifully articulated and inspiring.

“Brothers of the Fire Star” is available at the World Eye Bookshop.

Tinky Weisblat is a writer and singer who lives in Hawley. Her Web site is www.merrylion.com; her blog is www.ourgrandmotherskitchens.com.

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