“Monty is the byproduct of war, not the actual occurrence, but the usually silent yet brutal aftermath that haunts freely as it achieves untold mental damage. The initial setting is a picturesque refugee camp where life oscillates between the grim, the gothic, and the vicious. It is located in the fictional nation of Beuvera, whose attempts at seceding from Cape Toria, a fictional nation too, results in a Civil War. A dreadful consequence of the War, the camp is the birthplace of the central character, Monty, who is born to a faceless father and refugee mother that dies minutes after he is born. Left to the mercy of pervasive devastation and death, the near-dead infant is rescued by a reverend sister who, herself, is shot and dies soon after delivering him to a secret escape airstrip. Thus rescued and miraculously kept alive by Father Brendan who also names him Monty, the child begins a phenomenal social and physical journey that covers two continents.”
And so starts the story of Monty, a mentally challenged child who has to find his place in the world. He is first taken to Ireland and then to Wisconsin in America under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Church. In the homes for special children where he is raised, Monty begins to realize that he is different from what is considered normal. Not only is he an orphan when most other children had parents, he also looks different.
At about 15, Monty is introduced to playing the flute, and when he gets a gift of a flute from one of his host families, he is on his way to being a well known musician. He is taken to a school for special and gifted people where, even his awards and renown for flute playing is not enough to integrate him into the mainstream student body. There is a sense of alienation, and of coming to terms with his difference at this stage of the book. Monty barely interacts with those around him, only showing them the superficial aspects of him, and retreating into a shell of loneliness.
Monty manages to overcome this separation when he finishes from the school and gets assigned a room at a Catholic Coop Housing scheme. He gets a regular job playing the flute at mass and begins to explore relationships with those around him. One of his neighbours is of particular importance in exposing Monty to the seedier sides of life, but their friendship is shortlived as their life views are on opposing sides. Also at this stage, Monty’s infatuation with a girl he has known for years comes to head, but not in a favorable manner. Still, he is able to go on and develop a platonic relationship with another woman.
At this point in his life, Monty has become curious about his origins, and begins to ask questions and act out against the Catholic authorities that have always sheltered him. The author in the way he affects the future for Monty shows there are ways of showing protest and dissidence without resorting to violence. Monty gets deliberately rebellious when his wishes to find out about his family and country are thwarted and finally, it is decided to send him back to his country. Back home, he is rewarded with the truth and decides to stay.
The book starts out in a surreal landscape of chaos and the degradation of humanity that is a bit off-putting, and the following few chapters wobble as well in drawing one into the story. But by the time he’s a teenager, Monty has developed an intriguing personality that will keep the reader turning the pages, trying to see the world through the eyes of this unique individual. This novel, for me, is an interesting exploration of what makes us who we are, and how our individuality is formed. Tough the narrative is bogged down by over exposition and sometimes a repetition of thoughts and material in several places, I like the overall theme on the things that make us different and how one can come to terms with their place in life and still excel.