Tuesday, January 12, 1999

A Zoo In My Luggage

by Gerald Durrell

The true and amusing tale of how Durrell went to the Cameroons to acquire animals for his own zoo, which was then set up on Jersey in the Channel Islands.  It’s apparent how much Durrell loves wildlife, or at least collecting it; and he knows how to write with fluidity and humor.  I think the story was marred by Durrell’s authorial ego (he criticizes his wife for clucking over and anthropomorphizing the cute animals, but he does it all the time himself; he assumes that collecting animals from their native habitat is a worthwhile endeavor, no debate about it), and by his colonialist tone.  His conversations with the Africans (and between Africans themselves) are all reported in a babyish pidgin, which may be a droll device but gets old and smacks of European condescension.  The last part of the book describes Durrell’s escapades with the animals in suburban Bournemouth, which is very funny, and even informative, when he reports some simian behavior.  I would have liked for Durrell to give some details of his collisions with the local bureaucracy to set up a zoo in England, but then I suppose he’s not that kind of writer.  All in all a cute, lightweight book, with minor flaws rooted in the point of view of Durrell’s generation and class. 

three stars

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