A touching and empathetic debut about an isolated boy with a stutter
After a failed round of introductions at school, when Dorian can’t say anything more than a faltering ‘Do-do’, he decides to keep quiet. Not long after that, he sees a stuffed dodo in a museum, and it triggers something inside him. Dorian steals a rare dodo’s egg, incubates it and develops a close bond with the chick. At least, that’s how he describes it in the notebook that he starts writing in after that disastrous first day at school. It’s up to the reader, who’s locked up inside Dorian’s head – an insecure, fiery boy’s mind – to decide where reality stops and imagination begins. Dorian thinks back to the summer with his best friend, Ramses, and the two girls in the treehouse, and about how perfect it was, until everything went wrong and he lost even Ramses.
Mohana van den Kroonenberg has written a touching story about a stuttering boy who becomes isolated. An interesting element is that the stuttering is never mentioned. Even more interesting: except for two ‘Dodo’s, Dorian doesn’t say a word for the entire length of the book. His silence is absolute, but his imagination knows no bounds. Just for Dodo, he builds an imitation island of Mauritius in his bedroom, making a hilarious mess of water and sand. At a certain point, the flightless bird even takes off.
Dodo is a blazing ode to the imagination. In her tribute, Van den Kroonenberg also conceals a series of children’s books in her chapter titles and dialogues. ‘Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality,’ reads the quote from Lewis Carroll at the start of the book. The author of Alice in Wonderland stuttered so badly as a child when saying his surname (Carroll was a pseudonym – in reality he was called Dodgson) that he did not get any further than Do-do.
Van den Kroonenberg may place literature on a pedestal and refer to a literary hero with her protagonist, but she does not deny reality. In the end, Dorian has to return to real life. In a satisfying conclusion, he finds a way to deal with his speech impediment. This makes Dodo not only a strongly written debut, but also a story that offers comfort.