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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Orphans of Simitra (The)
by Paul-Jacques Bonzon
Age Range: 9-11
A story that spans three countries Greece, Holland and the South of France. Thirteen-year-old Porphyras works in the Greek countryside with his family looking after a flock of goats. When Papa Christophore opens the Patagos Service Station, a garage where he repair cars that is mainly used by tourists driving through the village, he plans to use the money earned to open a Petrol Station. In order to raise funds quicker, Porphyras comes up with hair-brained scheme that will ensure that the garage gets more customers by strategically placing nails on the road. However, he soon has a change of heart feeling guilty about the damage that could be caused. He decides to retrieve the nails from the road but with serious consequences.
There follows a series of further tragic events including an earthquake which hits the town of Simitra killing his parents and older brother Constantine. The only two survivors of the disaster are Porphyras and his younger sister Marina (Mina). Both children are now homeless and are taken to live with a foster family in Holland. Once in the new country the siblings, (although welcomed and well looked after by the new family), find it difficult to adapt to their new environment, learning a new language and getting used to the cold and wet weather.
Homesick for her native Greece, one day Mina disappears. This is the catalyst for Porphyras’ journey in search of his beloved sister, which will finally lead him to the South of France.
This is a compelling story full of drama by French author Paul-Jacques Bonzon (1908-1978). It is compassionate without being melodramatic; Porphyras’ determination to find his sister takes him on a long journey where he has to face various adversities that will eventually test his strength and stoicism to the limit.
The depiction of what it feels like being a refugee, settling in a new country and the difficulties of learning a new language are masterfully explored in this novel.
Bonzon was a popular French children’s author of his day. He worked as a teacher in his native France. The French edition of this book was awarded the Prix Enfance du Monde and it was also adapted into an animated film in 2008.