Readers might be tempted to check the copyright date on this old-fashioned rags-to-riches tale that manages to turn a major historical disaster into just another incident in the narrator’s very full life.
The overall tone is decidedly nostalgic as Johnny Trott, a poor orphan who once worked as a bellboy at the swanky Savoy Hotel in London, tells his story. From the arrival (and untimely demise) of a talented Russian singer and her titular cat Kaspar through Johnny’s acquaintance with a mischievous young American girl, a stint as a stowaway on the Titanic, the well-known sinking of the great ship, life in the United States, the Great War and back (just for a visit) to the Savoy, Morpurgo crams in too much action with too little emotional depth. Stilted conversational styles reflect the formality of the day but serve to further distance readers. Kaspar, while realistically portrayed in his feline hauteur and self-absorption, has limited appeal and, like most of the other characters, seems to exist mainly to propel the plot. Foreman’s black-and-white illustrations have a pleasing variation of texture, the likely result of having been first rendered in watercolor. From small vignettes to larger scenes, they effectively capture the styles of the day and accurately reflect the action, but they can’t quite manage to enliven the text.
Surprisingly (and disappointingly) dull. (Historical fiction. 9-12)