It took about two minutes for the tears to get going. We’re back with my journey books, and to me this is the ultimate journey book. I Am David by Anne Holm is a triple-hanky-at-the-end story, and it works on me every time.
First published in Danish in 1963, it’s unusual for having become so popular in English, as translations never seem to do so well. On the other hand, the book is all about the beauty of languages, and if it doesn’t sell you on the idea of learning a few more, then I don’t know what will.
Back to the crying. I only needed to reacquaint myself with the book a little, so leafed through it very quickly. But it didn’t help; I still felt soppy and sad. I remember listening to the audio book while doing the ironing years ago, and feeling exactly the same then.
Published as it was after years of the cold war, it’s hardly surprising that it starts in some unnamed country in southern Europe, on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. The young boy David has grown up in a kind of concentration camp, when one night the opportunity to escape turns up.
He journeys, often on foot, through Greece and across to Italy, and then the length of Italy towards Switzerland, Germany, all the time with Denmark as his goal. He is helped by his somewhat unlikely command of languages, his good manners and by being a generally really lovely person. But setting all that aside, it’s still a remarkable journey. He makes some enemies, but mostly he meets good people who help him towards his goal.
I don’t know how it works for young readers today; whether they can relate to old, but recent history like this. It’s too wonderful a book for it not to be put in front of new readers.