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By turns solemn and whimsical, Danish novelist Michael's American debut brings together a young boy and a dead 19th-century sea captain's restless spirit, in a luminous exploration of identity and youth. Malte is a 12-year-old abandoned city boy, a charity boarder at the rustic Sea View guest house in a Danish fishing village during the summer of 1912. When he finds a coffin on the beach, nobody can identify the corpse of the sailor it contains. But Aviaja, the enfeebled, reclusive old woman who lives at Crow Towers, exhibits a cryptic concern for the deceased. When she dies later that summer, she bequeaths her fortune to the local parish on the condition that a requiem be performed to commemorate the dead seaman. His mysterious identity and his relationship to Aviaja are questions throughout the novel, while Malte's boyish make-believe, his wildly imaginative and mischievous exploits, occupy the story's foreground. The sailor's shape-shifter spirit befriends Malte and fancies himself the boy's guardian angel, intent on preserving the sanctity of youth ("To be let loose in the wonderland of childhoodÄthat is what it means to be born a prince") and thereby reclaiming his own. The mysteries unravel during the final third of the bookÄnot in the puzzle-piece mode of conventional mystery plots, but via straightforward confessionÄand the dark, hallowed mood of this section contrasts sharply with the more frolicsome tone describing Malte's carefree adventures. With a supernatural flourish, the subplot of Flaubertian romance between the Sea View's chambermaid and a French impostor converges with the drama of the mysterious corpse, and in the end Malte's newfound literacy divines the seaman's identity in an ironic, essentially tensionless moment. The wholesome, folkloric tenor of this adult fairy tale creates an old-fashioned sensibility and includes the occasional grandiose pronouncement, but the novel endears with its glorious seascapes and its portrayal of the wonders of youth. (Nov.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

It is the summer of 1912, and 12-year-old Malte is spending the summer at a Danish seaside hotel. His mother, a ruined ballerina, has left him in the care of the staff of Sea View and the good people of Kikhavn. Malte's days revolve around daydreaming, beachcombing, and assisting the lighthouse keeper, and he finds himself drawn into the daily dramas and secrets of those around him. For Malte, "the most glorious summer morning any boy could wish for" begins when a coffin washes ashore with a dead sailor inside. Mystery surrounds the dead man, and stories of who he was, what he had been, and his connection to the old woman of Crow Towers are whispered to Malte by the sailor's spirit. The tragic stories of the sailor are deftly interwoven with Malte's own carefree summer adventures, creating a suspenseful narrative with near-tragic consequences. Danish novelist Michael's writing is inviting and lyrical, passing seamlessly between reality and fantasy. Highly recommended.ÄDianna Moeller, OCLC/WLN Pacific Northwest Svc. Ctr., Lacey, WA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

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