Douglas Arvidson has a blog dedicated to the book “Brothers of the Fire Star”. In the recording below he talks about the book, the characters, and the challenge of survival on their journey across oceans:
As the river spread out before giving itself up to the sea, it formed a small delta and this is where Joseph saw him; he was standing in a small sailboat that floated in the middle of a broad, quiet pool.
He was a boy not older than Joseph, small, brown, and slim with long, straight black hair that shone in the shadowed light. He was barefoot and wearing only a pair of ragged shorts held up by a thick brown leather belt and on the belt was a big knife in a leather sheath. As he hummed to himself he appeared to be tying something to the boat.
Before Joseph could speak, the boy said, “Don’t think you can sneak up on me! It is impossible, you see?”
He did not look at Joseph as he spoke. His voice was both challenging and taunting. “Come help me. I’m getting the sails ready and loading the boat with coconuts and other things to eat. Once that is done, we can leave.”
Then he did look up and stared hard at Joseph. “I have to take you with me. I don’t want to. But if I don’t, the soldiers will chop your head off.” He frowned. His eyes were large and very dark.
“Where are we going?” Joseph asked.
The boy did not seem to hear him. He went on, his voice quiet but hard. “I don’t want you to come with me because my boat is too small and I don’t have enough food for both of us. And you probably don’t know anything about sailing—or even fishing. And it will be dangerous to have you with me. If the soldiers catch us, they will shoot me, too—or cut my head off—because I was helping you because you are white.”
“There would cut my head because I’m white?”
“Yes, of course. That’s what they do. My grandmother told me. Of course, they will cut your head off first because you are probably a spy.”
Joseph looked up the river behind him, from where he had come. He did not see any soldiers—only the green of the jungle.
“But,” the boy said, and his frown deepened, “Even though you don’t know anything and will probably cause a lot of trouble and maybe even get us both killed, I must take you because I cannot leave you here. You got to do everything I tell you to do. No arguments, okay? I’m the boss.” He did not wait for answer. “So, come on, help me.”
Joseph hesitated for a moment, but then, without saying anything and with the sack slung over his shoulder, he stepped down into the water. The pool was too deep to walk across, so he held the sack up over his head with one arm and swam to the stern of the boat. The boy reached down and took the sack from Joseph’s outstretched hand.
“Can you climb in by yourself?” he asked.
“I think so,” Joseph said, and he put both hands on the side of the boat and kicked hard while he pulled himself up. He got the top part of his body over the gunwale and then one foot, and then he was able to roll into the bottom of the boat where he lay for a moment to catch his breath.
The boat was small and had once been painted blue but now most of the paint was gone except in a few places and the bare wood was almost black. It was filled with green coconuts and woven baskets filled with fruit: mangos, small, green bananas, sweet potatoes, and breadfruit.
The boy was tying a piece of heavy cloth onto a long, thick pole. He looked back down at his work and then, when Joseph was standing next to him, he said, “You see, I have a boat filled with food and the sail is ready. And I see you have a machete. That is good for us, hey? I’ve got one, too. We will need both of them, I think. What else is in the bag?”
“I have a—a carved stick and a book.” He said carved stick because that is what the Spirit of the Voyage looked like—like someone had carved the face and body into the wood—and he did not want to try to explain about the old ghost and the nunu tree.
“A what? A carved stick? And a book? That’s all? No food, no fishing line or hooks? You can throw them away. We don’t need sticks or books.”
“It’s my favorite book. It’s called A Boy’s Picture History of the World in One Volume.”
“We need fishing line and hooks, not books,” the boy said. He stopped what he was doing and looked at the sack and at Joseph. “Okay,” he said, and he shook his head and sighed. “See? You’re causing trouble already. Put them in the boat, then. We can use the pages of the book for starting a fire when we reach the islands. And what is this carved stick?”
Joseph took it from the sack and held it out toward the boy. “I found it,” he said. “I think maybe it’s good luck.”
The boy looked at the stick and then took it from Joseph’s hand. He carefully examined the sleeping face and the raw gash on its side. “What happened here?”
“It got shot.”
The boy looked into Joseph’s eyes. “It got shot? Really? Who shot it?”
“A soldier. Up there on the road.” Joseph looked upwards toward the hills.
“Was he trying to shoot you?”
Joseph thought about this for a moment and said, “I guess so. He was in the back of a truck. There were some people tied up in the back and the soldiers were pointing guns at them. I was standing along the side of the road and there was no where to go, so I jumped over a cliff and fell down into the jungle.”
“This means we must leave tonight,” the boy said. “They will come looking for you.” He handed the Spirit of the Voyage back to Joseph who put it back in the sack.
“Where are we going?” Joseph asked looking at the boat.
“We are escaping to another island—where there are no soldiers. What is your name?”
“They call me Napu,” the boy said. “Because I am a very good sailor—very brave. I am not afraid of the sea like other boys. Napu means ‘wave’ in our language—in Chamorro. Like a wave on the ocean. I’m thirteen—almost a man. How old are you?”
Napu—Napu. Joseph repeated the name to himself and then everything the old ghost had told him when he had given him the Spirit of the Voyage came back to him—that he must escape to the sea and he must take the Spirit of the Voyage with him, and that he would meet someone named Napu.
But he did not tell Napu this—it would all sound too crazy. Instead he said, “I’m thirteen, too,” and it was not much of a lie; he would be thirteen in February. “We’re going to escape in—in this boat?”
“Yes. It is my boat. I fish in it every day. I am a very good sailor and a very good fisherman. Every day I go out to sea and catch many fish. I caught fish for my grandmother until she went to join the ancestors.”
He reached into the boat and lifted out a coil of line and a rusty metal box. “You see, this is my fishing line and here are my hooks.” He opened the box and held it out for Joseph to see. Inside were half a dozen hooks glimmering in the light. “It’s hard to get good hooks,” he said. “These are very valuable.”
There was a roar overhead, sudden and loud, and Joseph winced and ducked down. Napu though, just looked up at the branches that hid the sky and said, “They are here. My grandmother said they would come and she was right. She was always right. So now we must escape. We will leave tonight as soon as it is dark. Are you ready?”
Joseph looked past Napu at the boat. It seemed very small and underneath the coconuts and woven bags of vegetables, he could see water in the bottom of it. He shrugged and said. “Yeah, I guess so.”