THE DIVING BELL by Todd Strasser


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Strasser notes that history records the first use of diving bells by 16th-century Caribbeans trying to salvage treasure from sunken Spanish ships; in this novel, unfortunately, he stretches credulity in suggesting how. On an island paradise off the Yucatan Peninsula, young Culca stubbornly insists that she wants to be a pearl diver like her brother Tulone, though diving is traditionally men's work. She Mils in with a friar who teaches her Spanish, religion, and mathematics, then finds Leonardo's sketch of a diving bell in one of his books. On a visit to the mainland, Culca sees a big bell outside the cathedral. After Tulone and others are kidnapped by the Spanish to recover gold from a galleon sunk in deep water, she persuades the bishop and governor to try her Leonardo-inspired idea of using the bell to save her brother. The author plays up both Culca's independence and Spanish treachery; though a kind sailor helps Culca and her brother escape, the conquerors are seen mostly as relentlessly greedy and cruel--even the friar dies from their abuse. In the end, Culca gets her wish, since her village has been decimated and needs divers: a wan triumph. A contrived but topical story, with an intriguing picture of several native cultures in transition.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1992
Page count: 159pp
Publisher: Scholastic