When Fishes Flew: The Story of Elena’s War

by | Nov 30, 2022 | Book Review, Fiction

When Fishes Flew (cover)

Book Details

When Fishes Flew: The Story of Elena’s War
Michael Morpurgo, illus. Lauren Mark Baldo. London: Harper Collins Children’s Books, pb, 978 0 00835 219 6, 2021, £7.99, 192 pp.
Fiction, novel, 9-12 years

Over almost fifty years, and amid his entire output of around 150 books for children, Michael Morpurgo has produced a rich and thoughtful collection of stories about wartime experiences.

Of course, it is forty years since War Horse was published, and it remains his best-known war-related book, a literary classic, which has seen many adaptations, notably that for the stage. In When Fishes Flew, first published in 2021, Morpurgo has linked memories of the twentieth-century past and ongoing wars with ancient Greek literature and set it on an island that he identifies as the legendary island of Ithaca. He has also linked it with the works attributed to Homer, specifically the myths and legends about Odysseus.

Morpugo’s twenty-first-century heroine is Nandi, an Australian-Greek seventeen-year-old, who is determined to visit the island where her ageing great-aunt Elena lives. Now Aunty Ellie is too old to undertake her previously regular trips to see her relatives in Australia, so Nandi decides to undertake the journey in the other direction and arrives in Ithaca only to find her aunt missing. Determined to find her aunt, Nandi walks on the beach in the quiet hours of sunrise and sunset, and this is where she finds shoals of small black fish, and one much bigger flying fish, a magical fish who is one incarnation of the Greek god Proteus, who can speak, and who can tell Nandi just why Aunty Ellie is missing, and how she came to be a Greek hero. Morpurgo introduces his readers to the centuries of civil war and insurrection in Greece, and links it with the outcome for people around the world who currently face recent or ongoing civil wars, and, like some Aunty Ellie helped, who flee their own country to find safety and support from elsewhere in the world.

The references to Homer and the Odyssey place the setting of the story both mythically and historically. Even more significant, like most of Morpurgo’s novels, When Fishes Flew specifically offers readers a deeply thoughtful, often heart-wrenching, but ultimately comforting narrative.  Accessible and exciting, When Fishes Flew perfectly reflects the humanitarian core of the work of this author.


Review by Bridget Carrington