2000 - 2007 Books in Translation

The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers

 Translated from the German by John Brownjohn

Five words from the blurb:  Bluebear, marvels, myth, satire, entertaining

This book is crazy! It is like walking through a series of the strangest dreams and fantasies that are possible to imagine.

The book begins with a tiny baby blue bear floating on the sea in a walnut shell. Suddenly he feels the shell start to rotate and he is dragged towards a whirlpool. At the last minute he is rescued by Minipirates – exceptional seafarers who try to capture other vessels, but are so small that no-one notices their valiant attempts at piracy. The Minipirates teach Bluebear all about knots and waves, but he grows fast and soon becomes too big for their ship. This leads to Bluebear being abandoned on an island, but as with everything in this book, it isn’t a normal island.

After breakfast I made a regular habit of touring my domain. The island wasn’t very big, only a few hundred yards in diameter, perhaps, but chock-full of minor sensations. The singing flowers learned a new song every day, and I spent hours listening to their silvery voices and watching the butterflies perform their flirtatious aerial ballets. The squirrels, too, were fond of showing off their acrobatic skills. Most of the time one sat perched on my head or shoulder and let me carry it around.

Each section in the book describes one of Bluebear’s lives, so by the end we have witnessed the first 13 1/2 of of his 27 lives. The creatures that Bluebear meets and the situations he encounters are weird, varied and frequently stretch the imagination to breaking point. This could have been a problem for me, but I found it all very entertaining and I loved the fact that anything was possible.

I should probably warn you that this book is almost 700 pages long, but don’t be too daunted – it is illustrated throughout and so is much shorter than it seems.


It took me a long time to read this book because I found I needed time to absorb each bizarre new world. By taking it slowly I was rewarded by noticing the deeper meaning behind the words. It all seemed totally mad, but with careful analysis a lot of insight into the human psyche was revealed. It also worked as a fabulous satire of fairy tales and science fiction novels.

If you are willing to try something completely new then I recommend that you give this a try. I’m sure you’ll be charmed by this cute Bluebear!



The thoughts of other bloggers:

The reader is allowed the unique experience of witnessing a character learn to speak, cry, feel fear, and so forth all for the first time.  Adventures in Reading

If you can imagine The Odyssey crossed with Doctor Who then you’ll have a pretty good idea of what this book is like.  Old English Rose Reads

Now this is just brilliant!  Now this is just brilliant! Bogormen

13 replies on “The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers”

This one is on my list for the Book Bloggers Abroad challenge, as it was recommended by Rikki of The Bookkeeper (German). I’m a bit shocked by the size, didn’t know it would be that long, but I still think I should read it, especially since you liked it too.

Thanks for the review. I didn’t really know what the book would be about.

Judith, It would probably only be about 400 pages long without the illustrations, so that isn’t too intimidating. I’ll be really interested to see your thoughts on this one as although I love German humour I’m sure it isn’t to everyones taste. I hope that you get around to reading it soon.

I have picked this book up so many times in my local bookshsop and just haven’t plucked up the courage to buy it as it’s a lot of money (books are very expensive here in Aus!) and pages to invest in if it doesn’t pan out… but now I’ve read your review, the balnce has been shifted in its’ favour and I will be buying it the next time I see it. Thank you for the excellent review.

Bryoak, Next time you pick it up in the book shop try reading he first page or two – that will give you a very good idea of the craziness. If you enjoy the style of the first page then I’m sure you’ll love the rest of the book. I’ve got my fingers crossed you enjoy it 🙂

I started this last year with some gusto… And then sort of lost the love for it after it’s initial first half, I then didn’t finish it and am not sure I will! It was good, and definitely different, it just seemed to loose my attention which was a shame. I think it felt a bit too long maybe.

Simon, I can see why that might happen – it is a bit long and it doesn’t have a narrative drive. I think it worked for me because I read it very slowly. I treated it a bit like a series of short stories and read them over a long period of time. Perhaps if you picked it up again where you left off and tried reading only about 10 pages at once you’d fall back in love with it?

I’ve almost bought this book numerous times, but always got daunted by the size. Have to say it sounds wonderfully bizarre, and I really do want to read it. I’m going through a phase where I want to read outlandish and surreal books, and this sounds like it fits the bill.

Thanks for the review – looking forward to reading this now.

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