The Drunken Forest by Gerald Durrell
Illustrations by Ralph Thompson
Finished: Sep.22, 2009
First Published: 1956
Genre: non-fiction, memoir, animals
As the ship nosed its way into port we leant on the rail and gazed at the panorama of Buenos Aires gradually curving around us.
Reason for Reading: I've read several of the author's books as a teenager and loved them. Except for a few, though, I can't remember, by title, which ones I've read until I start reading them. This one I had not read before and is my first foray back into Gerald Durrell since that time. I also used to watch a show he had on TV at the time and really enjoyed the man's love for his animals and his sense of humour.
Comments: The Durrells, Gerald and his wife Jacquie, travel to South America, namely Argentina and Paraguay, to collect birds for a Bird Sanctuary and animals for their own zoo on the Island of Jersey. Ultimately this trip is a failure in their eyes according to their mission but the animals and people they meet along the way make a fun book to read. The core of the book takes place in Paraguay where the Durrells stay in the out of the way Chaco territory during one of the country's civil wars.
It is written in a somewhat episodic format, though it does hold a continuous story line, as most of Durrell's book often are. Durrell has an amazing way of seeing animals as people and describing their behaviour and antics comparably that it is a delight to read. There are many laugh out loud moments. He also has the same comic descriptive attitude when describing the people he meets or befriends on his trip. He really is brilliant at this comic characterization which brings people to life before your eyes. Unfortunately, since he is in a foreign country most of the people he meets are not white people and his descriptions could be taken the wrong way by the ultra sensitive. His descriptions are far from racist (though this is 1954) and one will see that he characterizes white people in the same way. In this book neither his wife nor an American living in the jungle escape his keen eye.
But the main focus is the animals. Durrell's love for the animals is pure and overabundant. It is a lot of fun to read about all the different species he meets in this book such as a burrowing owl, a crab eating raccoon, a horned toad, orange armadillos, seriemas, a baby giant anteater, an anaconda and many, many more. Very interesting story to read. Also interesting to see the methods used with the animals back in the fifties which seem a bit barbaric by today's standards but were probably the leading standards for the times. This book is not as funny as I remember Durrell being, but I think that may be due to the hardships of this particular journey. A book fans will enjoy but probably not the one to start with if you haven't read the author before.
PS - Don't forget to enter my contest for The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan! It ends tomorrow!