ForeWord Magazine, Fall 2012 issue

 

The Turtle-Girl from East Pukapuka
Cole Alpaugh
Coffeetown Press
Softcover $15.95 (288pp)
978-1-60381-116-3


With a tsunami about to overrun their home,
the islanders of East Pukapuka stand with
hands linked, facing the end that their gods
have created for them. But one small girl named
Butter is missing, as she desperately tries to rescue
the sick animals she nurses. According to
her culture, animals cannot enter heaven. Thus
she believes it’s vital to prolong their lives. The
island is heaven to Butter: “What would eternity
be like if you couldn’t lie on a sandy beach with
a chirping gecko sunning himself on your belly,
licking his eye membranes and trying to change
his color to look just like you?”


Butter’s mother was The Keeper of the
Books, books left to the island by a soldier
but that have since become waterlogged and
unreadable. The islanders named their babies
after the authors or characters. Hence the old
sea captain who rescues Butter is named Jesus.
After Butter evades drowning by clinging to
the shell of a turtle, Jesus mistakes her for a
half-girl, half-turtle and imagines the riches
that will reward his discovery. She, in turn,
mistakes him for a god named Jesus.


Meanwhile, two small-time crooks accidentally
become big-time pirates when the light
from a meteor abets their robbery of a shipload
of cocaine. Like a modern-day Vladimir and
Estragon in Waiting for Godot, Ratu (a kingly
title) and Jope (urban slang for weed) are
friends of unequal intelligence waiting for the
cannibals they have been warned by the shark
god are coming to avenge the cocaine theft.


In another part of the world, a paralyzed,
seemingly comatose ex-ski racer named Dante
can move only one finger, but it’s enough for
him to click the remote control to travel channel
footage of East Pukapuka, which he determines
is his “home.” Who better than Dante to
lead Butter back to her island, with the help of
Jesus and a lovely companion named Ophelia?


The book is playful and comic in its creation
of such misunderstandings and coincidences.
As their stories unfold and intersect,
one comes to believe the island is indeed
paradise, as Jesus plays a heroic role and the
cannibal, Albino Paul, the shark god, and the
birds play out a finale resounding with echoes
of myth.


Cole Alpaugh is a former award-winning
journalist and Pulitzer Prize nominee. Currently
a freelance photographer and writer, Alpaugh is
also author of The Bear in a Muddy Tutu

(July) KAREN MULVAHILL

About colealpaugh

Cole Alpaugh began his newspaper career in the early 1980's at a daily paper on Maryland's Eastern Shore, where he covered everything from bake sales to KKK meetings. He moved on to a paper in Massachusetts to specialize in feature essays, where his stories on a Hispanic youth gang and the life of a Golden Gloves boxer won national awards. His most recent newspaper job was at a large daily in Central New Jersey, where he was given the freedom to pursue more "true life" essays, including award winning pieces on a traveling rodeo, and an in-depth story on an emergency room doctor. The doctor's story ended when the physician brought back to life an elderly woman who'd once been his children's babysitter. The essay was nominated by Gannett News Service for a 1991 Pulitzer Prize. Cole also did work for two Manhattan-based news agencies, covering conflicts in Haiti, Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and guerrilla raids conducted out of the refugee camps along the Thai/Cambodia boarder. His work has appeared in dozens of magazines, as well as most newspapers in America. Cole is currently a freelance photographer and writer living in Northeast Pennsylvania, where he spends his afternoons watching his daughter hit fuzzy yellow balls and ski through slalom gates. You can find him online at ColeAlpaugh.com.
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