Following the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, a girl called Annejoule wakes with a terrible headache to find her home reduced to rubble, her mother and brother dead, and mysterious voices speaking to her. This is the beginning to She Walks On Water, a new novel by writer/editor/City Council member Cecil Bothwell; a book that describes a remarkable journey of hope, restoration and surprising connection.
The voices calling Annejoule turn out to be those of the pod of dolphins in the nearby bay. They communicate telepathically, though Annejoule is the first “noisemaker” (the dolphins’ term for humans) to receive those transmissions. Soon after, Japanese student Naoki falls off his bike and when he regains consciousness, he, too, can hear dolphins.
Although Annejoule and Naoki live in vastly different worlds — she’s desperately poor and facing hunger, disease and attacks in her destroyed village; he’s surrounded by friends, a loving fiancée and a promising career upon graduation — the two come to find solace and support in the dolphins and, eventually, in each other.
Water takes on two issues important to Bothwell. One is environmentalism and sustainability; the other is the questioning of religion. “What god would visit her creation with disease? What god would crush poor and hungry people with earthquakes and drown them with hurricanes?” asks Dan-Dan, Annejoule’s teacher at the farm where she settles with orphaned toddler Laban, widow Jeanine and a dog called Poussez. But even as Annejoule begins to ask her own questions about faith, she finds answers in the community and the makeshift agricultural school that grows out of the tragedy of the earthquake.
Language is an important part of Water. Because Annejoule, Naoki and the dolphins converse telepathically, they’re all able to understand each other. To stress the differences in their languages and ways of communicating, Bothwell has added in small touches (each chapter begins with a date, written in either Japanese or French; Annejoule’s chapters are sprinkled with Creole expressions) and large — the dialog in Naoki’s chapters is written like an English translation in Japanese syntax, so the speakers all sound like Yoda. “Japanese fishermen, informed I am, dolphins in great numbers slaughtered.” It’s a choice that slows the reading a bit and adds some confusion to the story. But after awhile, the unfamiliar phrasing begins to make sense and the overall effect, in a story so concerned with how we share information, lends a layer of complexity.
Communication between human and dolphin proves challenging at points: What is old? What are years? What is time, the dolphins want to know. The people of whom they ask these questions find themselves hard-pressed to explain such nebulous concepts, just as they have a difficult time explaining to those around them how they’re able to hear the thoughts of the sea creatures (many of which have to do, comically, with fish, commercial jingles and pop song lyrics). But ultimately love, community and cooperation win out over fear and doubt, making She Walks On Water as satisfying as it is unique.
— Alli Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
who: Cecil Bothwell reads and signs She Walks On Water
where: Malaprop’s Bookstore & Cafe
when: Friday, July 5 (7 p.m., free. http://malaprops.com)