So this is one I’ve been meaning to talk about for a while. I had a few rants to friends just after I read it from the sheer shock and horror that I experienced from reading this book but the themes and plot of the book have finally settled enough in my mind that I can write about it.
*I will make a point to warn you, dear readers, that there are some dark themes present in this book that may be mentioned in this post (abuse, sexual assault) so do be aware and read further at your own discretion.*
Do you ever judge a book by its title or cover? Yep, me too and that is exactly what I did when purchasing this book on my kindle. The Light of the Fireflies by Paul Pen was a book that was on sale on my Kindle a few months ago and I got a little notification on my phone for it. I thought, “why not?”, bought it for myself and I settled in for a nice read. Wow, was I naive? (Honestly, I saw “fireflies” in the title and thought it would be a nice, feel-good kind of book. Have you ever seen Grave of the Fireflies? That should have been my first insight that usually fireflies in titles means you’re in for an emotional rollercoaster).
The Light of the Fireflies by Paul Pen. This book was originally written in Spanish but translated into English by Simon Bruni (it’s very well translated. I did even know it was a Spanish book until recently when I looked further into the book).
The book is written from the point of view of a young boy who lives in a basement with no access to the world above. The young boy knows of no life other than the one he has lived in the basement as he was born there. In the basement, he lives with his mother and father, sister, brother and grandmother who were all disfigured by a fire. His sister wears a white mask to cover her burns and the young boy has never seen her face.
The young boy spends his time with his cactus and reading his books about insects. Sometimes, when sunlight filters through a crack in the ceiling, he plays with the rays of light too. Since his sister’s baby was born, the young boy thinks that everyone is acting strangely and doesn’t understand why no one will talk about who the babies father is, why they live in the basement and what happened before he was born. There are a lot of questions that no one is going to give him answers to.
But then the fireflies show up. A creature that makes its own light, the boy is instantly fascinated by their light. He keeps them, keeps them a secret from his family, and realises that the light of the fireflies makes him want to escape and see the outside world. The problem is that all the doors are locked and he doesn’t know how to get out.
This book was a whirlwind. Usually, I don’t read these kinds of books but since I stumbled into this book without doing much research into it I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. It is a dark tale. There is so much to take from this book. There are so many themes that scream at you throughout the story but for me, the main theme is that of hope and childish ignorance. It is hard to write about without giving too much away of the story, but there are so many horrible secrets that are kept by the family and you spend a lot of time thinking about what could have happened to put them into the situation that they are in. But the idea of loyalty to the family and doing what needs to be done to protect the family is very apparent but with disregard of the consequences.
The young boy is full of childish curiosity but has reached an age that he is beginning to question what is going on in his surroundings. There are a lot of things that are happening that he doesn’t fully understand to the full extent but is beginning to comprehend that something doesn’t seem right and that everything his family has told him can’t be trusted. He keeps his fireflies secret from his family, except his Grandma, and the longer he keeps them the more he wants to escape.
There’s no creature more amazing than one that can make its own light.
The sister is a character that is hard to like to begin with but as the back story begins to unravel we begin to understand why she acts the way that she does. There are certain acts that she commits that are inexcusable but there are definitely things that are in rebellion to being surrounds by her family and how they act about their past. The mask that she wears that the others do not is an interesting piece of symbolism. A mask can hide so many things, and there are so many secrets hidden in the story. And when the mask comes off, the secrets come out too.
I enjoyed this book but I think it was truly unlike anything that I have ever read before. It was a traumatic read and made me rather uncomfortable at points but it was so cleverly crafted and dealt with so many heavy topics that aren’t openly addressed in literature. There are acts of violence, attempted murder and sexual assault (of screen) which make this book unsuitable for younger readers. But it is a really interesting plot, in a horribly morbid way. Ultimately it is a story about child abuse and that a family has to do what they have to do in order to protect themselves regardless of the circumstances and that you should forgive because they are your family.
Until next time.
The Light of the Fireflies by Paul Pen