It is around the turn of the twentieth century, and sixteen-year-old Ramon Salazar lives in the town of La Paz on the Baja California coast of Mexico, with his father Blas, the owner of a lucrative pearl fishing business, mother, and two sisters. Blas Salazar had promised his son that when he turned sixteen he would make Ramon a partner in his business, allow him to sail with the fleet, and teach him how to dive for pearls. However, following his birthday Ramon gets to go only once, staying on the boat, and afterwards is left home to work in the shop because his father is afraid of losing his only son to the sea. So Ramon makes a secret arrangement with an Indian diver named Soto Luzon to learn how to dive for pearls from him while his father's fleet is out.
One of Senor Salazar's divers, Gaspar Ruiz, a young man who is called the Sevillano because he came from Seville, Spain, claims to have found a giant pearl the size of a hen's egg in the Gulf of Persia which he sold to the Shah for a lot of money. Also, in the Vermilion Sea off the shores of La Paz, there is a giant ray known as the Manta Diablo, stories of which mothers in La Paz used to frighten their children into obedience. Soto Luzon says that the Manta Diablo lives in and guards the lagoon near his house, so Ramon goes there to dive and finds The Pearl of Heaven. When Senor Salazar is not offered enough money for it, he gives it to the church. But after the Salazar fleet is destroyed in a storm and everyone, including Ramon's father, is lost, except for the Sevillano who manages to escape, Ramon finds that the pearl has brought him two enemies-the Manta Diablo and the Sevillano. Then the pearl is stolen. Who took it? And what will happen to Ramon?
Author Scott O'Dell has written some great books. We liked Island of the Blue Dolphins, although we did not care for its sequel Zia quite as well, and we really liked The Hawk That Dare Not Hunt by Day about William Tyndale. I wonder if O'Dell based The Black Pearl on the same Mexican legend that John Steinbeck used for his book The Pearl. It is an interesting adventure-type story with a touch of suspense that has little objectionable. The Spanish phrase "Madre de Dios," which means "Mother of God," is used a couple of times as an exclamation, which I understand is fairly common in Mexico. As one might expect, there are several Roman Catholic beliefs and practices mentioned, with which those of us who are Protestants would not agree. In fact, one person suggested, "Treatment of the Madonna by the people could be impetus for a paper on the theology errors in the book." However, I choose to look upon these things as simply O'Dell's depiction of the religious customs of the people in a historical fiction setting. It won a Newbery Honor in 1968. Another individual said that it contains "elements of The Old Man and the Sea and Moby Dick" and is a "heavily symbolic tale about evil, art, the artist, greed and nature."show more
by Wayne S. Walker