Last Great Auk
The protagonist of this novel is heroic, majestic, a born leader, a devoted husband and proud father. He is destined to be long remembered by whoever reads about his life. He is a great auk.
The great auks were the only flightless species of North Atlantic bird. Their tiny wings were not capable of raising their large bodies into the air. Yet these ridiculous flipper-like appendages––pumping in perfect harmony with the vast splayed feet with their tough rubbery webbing––could propel the birds on or beneath the billowing ocean surface faster than six strong men could row a boat. When standing upright, the great auks resembled penguins. These noble birds have been extinct for more than one hundred years, but they live again in this amazing novel that follows them and their last leader from their North Atlantic summer mating grounds on Eldey Island south to the Carolinas. On the island and along the three-thousand-mile migration route lurk many perils––storms, killer whales, fishhooks, scientists, and the “terrible tune of swishthump” that marks the onslaught of profiteering hunters with their murderous clubs. Before the story is finished, we witness the growth of the young great auk from the dramatic moment of hatching, into his adventures as a timorous fledgling, until the time when he himself becomes the monarch of his dwindling flock. As the seven remaining birds begin their return to Eldey Island, the reader fears what he knows is inevitable, that these great auks are the last, that there will be no more. Such is the power of Allan W. Eckert’s novel and its remarkable characters.