The three narratives that make up Sailing to Cythera and Other Anatole Stories are unified by their mystical tone and content, by the recurring motif of the heroic quest, and by a common protagonist—five-year-old Anatole, who resides in rural Michigan. The slim volume is evocatively illustrated by David McPhail.
In the first of these stories, “Gospel Train,” Plumpet, Anatole’s cat, presides at the funeral of her Aunt Pitterpat, who, having exhausted her nine earthly lives, “has gone to get a new skin” in the mysterious and eternal land of the afterlife. Anatole and Plumpet set out to visit her there, boarding a train occupied by anthropomorphized animals, including owls with bonnets, a raccoon reading a newspaper, and singing rabbits. Aunt Pitterpat is duly found in “Morgentown,” a place from which “nobody . . . sends postcards” and which can be reached only after a hazardous train ride through a dark forest and across a river (perhaps symbolic of the Styx or the Jordan). The journey home becomes a daunting challenge: Anatole himself, aided by various animals, must navigate the train back across the river, lest they all be stranded forever in the abode of the blessed dead.
Anatole’s quest in “The Wise Soldier of Selleback” is to recapture soldier Erik Hanson’s thirty lost (or perhaps stolen) years of memory. The recitation of a magical chant transports Anatole first to Norway, where an old man informs him...
(The entire section is 551 words.)