Sunday, August 10, 2008

My Family and Other Animals - Gerald Durrell (1956)

I like animals. I understand their importance in our ecological system. I even admire and appreciate certain species. But I wouldn't go as far as calling myself a generic animal lover, because frankly there are some whose existence is quite beyond my grasp. Lizards for example, or snakes, or crocodiles...basically the entire gamut of animals that are categorised as reptiles. And thus when I spotted a lizard in class one day I turned into an embarassingly nervous skittish foal who quickly hopped over to the other side of the class and ended up providing much more entertainment than usual to my students...and the very next day I was given a copy of Gerald Durrell's autobiographical My Family and Other Animals.

Skeptical at first, I started reading it not quite sure if I'd like it or even finish it. I did finish it, just a few days later, after having spent a few nights laughing and chuckling in bed at the anecdotes narrated by Durrell about his sejour in the Greek island of Corfu from 1935 - 1939, his colourful family and extended group of friends and above all, his adventures and experiences with animals. Gerald Durrell (younger brother of the far more famous Lawrence Durrell) spent several years in Corfu with his family, where he roamed at liberty in the countryside observing, absorbing, collecting, learning...often appalled and outraged with the latest animal he had decided to adopt, his family mostly supported his love for animals. The novel is full of interesting, entertaining and educating anecdotes that made me view animals in a whole new light. For instance, I would have never thought of a fight between a mantis and a gecko as anything worth watching, but Durrell presents it like a heroic episode between two mighty warriors and I must admit that despite my complete horror and skirmish disgust at the excruciating details provided I was impressed. His presentation of the turtles and their mating ritual tickled me pink, as did his descriptions of the rather aggressive bird they adopted.

My reading informs me that Gerald Durrell who later went on to become a very famous naturalist and is responsible for having recognised and saved some endangered species, apart from setting up the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust for his animals, wrote mainly because his brother urged him to do so. Lawrence Durrell, the established writer urged him to pen down his experiences as a naturalist and narrate the anecdotes as a means of financing his expeditions and sharing the knowledge he had gathered over the years. Had I not known this, I would have pegged the younger Durrell as just as talented a writer as his famous elder brother. I wish I had discovered Gerald Durrell earlier, but then as they say in my mother tongue (tongue-in-cheek) der sahi, andher nahin. Having enjoyed this one throughly, I do believe I am going to try and hunt down more of his fictional writing.

PS The customary excerpt is missing because I returned the book immediately after finishing reading it and am posting this nearly three weeks after...

4 comments:

pranabk said...

I liked the way this review started -- the first paragraph, I mean, and that tone of mischievous humor. Nice!

Plain Jane said...

But did you not like the way the review progressed and ended?

anjya said...

you can borrow it to add the 'customary' exerpt anytime, madmoiselle, or, if i may be permitted, i could, too, though i don't know if that's technically possible

anjya said...

oops..excerpt :)