Tom Michell has reached his twenties and seeks adventure. Heading to the South American continent to work at a prestigious boarding school in Argentina and dreams of travel and exploration. The country that he arrives in is turbulent and in the grip of military control and rampant inflation after the collapse of the Perón regime. The allure of travelling during the long summer holidays prompts him to acquire a motorbike, hoping to see the landscape at his own pace.
Time to live the dream. Except that dream didn’t involve getting a pet penguin…
Whilst on a short break in Uruguay he comes across a beach with hundreds of dead penguins covered in oil from the wreck of a tanker. As he walks through the devastation, he sees one alive and picks it up and sneaks it back into the hotel. After a minor altercation involving a cut finger, he manages to clean the oil off the penguin and when he realises that it really doesn’t want to leave him, so begins a relationship with a bird, Juan Salvador. He just needs to work out how to get the creature across the border and back to school. S begins a story of a penguin that transformed Mitchell’s life and many of those in the school that he taught at.
It is a heart-warming story of a foolhardy decision that in the long run had so many positive benefits for all those that came into contact with Juan Salvador. There are some genuinely funny moments in the book and the tale he tells has a certain charm too. It is a serious commitment that he has made to care for an animal that needs company and attention and he tells it as it is. I really would have liked much more of the travelling that he undertook in the region, but that was not the focus of the book. Occasionally the writing is a bit twee and stilted, but it is a nice heart warming story.