I first read My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell as a pre-teen, just when I was beginning to leave my childhood infatuation with animals (and dreams of becoming a vet) behind, and moving onto more adult pleasures – like makeup, fashion magazines, and romance novels.
At that time, reading this book extended my childhood for a few more months I think before I fully tumbled into teen-hood. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that when I saw this book in the library recently, I happily picked it up again for a reread.
About the Book and Author
Gerald Durrell is a famed naturalist, and in this book, he writes about his childhood days spent in Corfu, Greece, with his parents and siblings, and all his animals- that he had a habit of collecting from different places. This book is the first of three books in the Corfu trilogy – all of which deal with his life in Corfu with his family and his animals.
Some of those animals include puppies, toads, scorpions, geckoes, ladybugs, glowworms, octopuses, bats, and butterflies. The book is full of short standalone (but really better if read in order) chapters recounting Gerry’s adventures with animals, and his family’s hilarious run-ins with them.
This autobiographical account of those years in Corfu had me rolling in laughter. Durrell has a way with words – he can describe the most magical scenes of nature and wildlife beautifully and atmospherically. I especially loved how he endowed the animals with such human emotions and reactions.
And at the same time, he can write the most hilarious anecdotes ever. His stories about the clash of cultures between England and Greece, between his family members and his animals, I can’t begin to explain how funny they are. Here’s an example.
“He glanced about him to make sure we weren’t overheard, leaned forward, and whispered, ‘He collects stamps.’
The family looked bewildered.
‘You mean he’s a philatelist?’ said Larry at length.
‘No, no, Master Larrys,’ said Spiro. ‘He’s not one of them. He’s a married man and he’s gots two childrens.”
Reading about his wild days simply wandering around the island with his dog had me yearning for a simpler, slower life. In fact, this book is a very homage to that kind of lifestyle, that sadly is no longer possible these days.
The author knows that fact and acknowledges it.
My childhood in Corfu shaped my life. If I had the craft of Merlin, I would give every child the gift of my childhood.
I am not sure just how much of his anecdotes are true, and how much comes from his imagination, but even if 10% of his stories are true, then his childhood is what dreams are made of.
This book is also a timely reminder to me that it’s sometimes better to just let kids be. Reading this book as an adult mom with two small kids, I was sometimes appalled at how Gerry’s mum lets him run loose all over the place with absolutely no supervision. That is a total no-no in these days of over parenting. But as I was about to hastily condemn her as an indifferent mother, I saw that Gerry has dedicated this book to her. Another very interesting fact is that out of her 4 children – 3 of them have written books. And all her kids are unique in one way or the other.
Currently, as I butt heads with Piglet mostly over his obsessive conviction that he is a dinosaur which unfortunately influences how he behaves with others, I wonder whether it would be wiser to just let things be. I know reading this book reminds me to slow down, enjoy long walks with Coco and the kids, go ahead and just let Piglet investigate that
interesting repulsive looking toad.
And Piglet’s problems with not liking school? Well, Gerald Durrell was tutored at home for the most part of his childhood, and he turned out just fine, so why fret?
Anyway, since this review has degenerated into disjointed domestic ramblings, I will end this so-called book review strongly stating that this book is a must-read for everybody, especially if you are a kid, or have a young kid, or just love animals and animal stories in general. I read out bits and pieces from the book (in a simplified way) to the kids, and they loved it, especially Piglet.
I can’t wait for when they will read this little gem of a book for themselves.
Have you read this book? If so, did you go on to read the other books in the Corfu trilogy? After finishing this one, I find myself longing for more of Corfu and the animals, and his eccentric but lovable family.
You can also buy a copy of this book from Amazon.