My Family and Other Animals

My Family and Other Animals

Gerald Durrell

Puffin Books, 2006 (1956)

Autobiography, english, 387 pages

My Family and Other Animals is an autobiographical work of a naturalist, animal lover, zoo founder, conservationist, and author, Gerald Durrell, telling a part of his childhood years spent in Corfu island, Greece, between 1935 – 1939. Durrell had originally intended to write a natural history of the island as a “mildly nostalgic account“, but “I made a grave mistake by introducing my family into the book in the first few pages…“, and so how it became, a memoir book about his family and other animals during his years in Corfu.

Being tired and always ill because of the damp and depressing weather of England, the whole family had finally decided to move to Corfu island in search for the sun; Larry (Lawrence Durrell, now famous novelist) – 23, Leslie – 19, Margo – 18, and Gerry (Gerald) being the youngest – 10, and their mother. Writer Larry brought with him trunks of books; hunting passionate Leslie his hunting things; Margo being in her sensitive year of self-consciousness on beauty, whatever she thought was necessary; mother her collection of cookbooks; and Gerry his dog, Roger, and some books and journals on natural history. With the miraculous help of a local character, Spiro, the eccentric family slowly and eventually settled down into the life of picturesque Corfu.

Corfu became a natural paradise for Gerry. The hills, the vineyard, the olive groves, the ponds and streams, the untouched beach and the sea, as well as other small islands in the archipelago. With morning walking with his dog as his routines, he explored the island, observed the animals, and found a marvelous world of life in the ponds, streams, beach, and was being friends with some local peasants. He also adopted some animals, partly for he found them so adorable, partly for helping them find a home. Owl, scorpions, turtles, birds, some more dogs, fish, water snakes, to name just a few. Soon their villa had also become home for these variation of animals, which often set dramatic (and hilarious) scenes within the family life, as not all of them shared the same passion with Gerry. Mother, in this case, was always accommodating and understanding. Exploration on animal behaviors were described by Gerry in so much detailed yet humorous way, as if you were reading an analyses from an animal psychologist. Description on tortoise’s mating behaviors, a bird who at some point ‘decided to stop being a bird’, dogs with their ‘understanding of the world’, for example, have been very interesting and entertaining, at least to me.

Gerry’s encounter with Theodore Stephanides (Theo), Greek doctor, scientist, poet and philosopher, marked an important point in Gerry’s childhood life. With him, Gerry found a soul-mate to share his passion on natural life and animals. Being tutor as well as friend, Theo walked with him into the woods and accompanied him in observing animal phenomenas. He also treated Gerry as an equal expert in animals regardless his young age. It is said that it was by this encounter that Gerald Durrell later found the inspiration to continue his life as naturalist, founded a zoo and a conservation center.

Durrell in his final years, with 'cottontop tamarins' (photo Wikipedia)

Animals to Durrell are the great voteless and voiceless majority, who can only survive with our help. His messages are reflected through this book in humorous and poetic ways, making the reading both entertaining and educating.

Born in India in 1925 of parents with english and irish origins, Durrell reported that his first visit to a zoo in India attributed to his life-long love of animals. He dedicated all his life to animal world: working in the zoo, going in to some animal expeditions around the world, founding a zoo and then a conservation center. He died in 1995 and has been a highly respectful figure in England. To this date, his zoo and conservation center (www.durrell.org) continue making efforts in saving and conserving the endangered animals of this planet. The world is as delicate and as complicated as a spider’s web, you send shudders running through all the other threads. We are not just touching the web, we are tearing great holes in it, became the reason for his conservation acts.

My Family and Other Animals
Birds, Beasts and Relatives
The Garden of the Gods

My Family and Other Animals has equally autobiographical sequels: Birds, Beasts and Relatives (1969), and The Garden of the Gods (1978).

He dedicated this book to his mother.

Paris, 7 June, 2010

Mei

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