Chapters 1 and 2 Summary

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Eleven-year-old Phillip Enright lives on the Dutch island of Curacao, just off the coast of Venezuela. In 1939 his father, an expert in refineries and gasoline production, was summoned to work in Curacao for the war effort. Phillip’s mother, a nervous woman, was very unhappy about the family’s move to the island from their home in Virginia. It is now February 1942, and German submarines have just attacked the refinery on the nearby island of Aruba. Although his mother warns him to stay close to home in the aftermath of the attack, Phillip is caught up in the excitement following the event and goes down to the shore with his Dutch best friend, Henrik van Boven.

The boys first visit the old fort by the water, where they often play. They are surprised and somewhat sobered to find the facility manned by “real soldiers with rifles and machine guns” who chase them away. Phillip and Henrik then go to the Queen Emma pontoon bridge, where it is uncharacteristically quiet—the native schooners are all tied to the docks, and the Black men who work there are not laughing and shouting the way they usually do. An army officer arrives in a truck and asks the people on the bridge to leave. The boys are frightened by the eerie emptiness of the sea and return to their homes in Scharloo.

Phillip’s mother has an angry, emotional outburst when she learns that he disobeyed her and went to the shore in hopes of seeing a submarine. In contrast, when Phillip’s father returns home from work, he speaks openly and reasonably with his son about the attack and the possibility that there might be others. When Phillip asks why the men on the island do not go out and fight the enemy, his father replies gravely that they do not have the weapons with which to defend themselves.

That night, Phillip hears his parents arguing. His mother wants to take Phillip to Norfolk immediately, where she believes they will be safe, but his father insists that there will be more danger on the trip back than if they stay on the island. Because of the possibility of further attacks, sea travel around Curacao and Aruba virtually ceases. After a week, there is a shortage of fresh water and food on the islands. Although Phillip’s father remains hopeful that the ships will resume their activity again soon, his mother pushes even more strongly to be allowed to go back to Virginia.

A few days later, Phillip’s father takes him to Schottegat to see the loading and departure of the S.S. Empire Tern, an armed British tanker that will be among the first to venture into the dangerous waters around the islands. Tragically, the ship is hit by a torpedo and explodes in a wall of flame as a German submarine surfaces about a mile away to watch the carnage. Although Phillip has begun to understand that war is an inglorious reality of death and destruction, he wants to stay on the island with his father—but that night his mother announces unequivocally that she and Phillip are going back to Norfolk. In the end, Mr. Enright gives in to the demands of his wife and manages to book passage on an outgoing ship for her and their son. In early April, Phillip and his mother leave Curacao on the S.S. Hato, bound for Miami via Panama.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Chapters 3 and 4 Summary