Jul 22, 2009

The Animal Wife

by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

I have a hard time thinking what to say about The Animal Wife. It is a companion novel to Reindeer Moon, telling about the same group of prehistoric people, also a coming-of-age story, but about a young man this time. Kori, the main character, sets off on a journey to live with his father's people after having spent his childhood with his mother. He is eager to prove himself a man, and earn his place. He is just beginning to find his place among the grown men when he makes a brash move and takes captive a woman from an unknown tribe. His rash action condemns his new "wife" to live among total strangers- but also makes Kori something of an outcast himself, and places his own family group in danger...

It was hard for me to like Kori. He gave little consideration to what his captive wife might be feeling, and was mostly concerned with hunting, his status among the men, and his enjoyment of women. Women in this primitive society were pretty much regarded as possessions, without will or rights of their own. I suppose it might well have been like that so many thousands of years ago, but still it made me feel awful how callously some of them were treated in the story. I did like reading about how closely tied the people were to the land, how their lives depended upon the weather, change of seasons, movements of animals. Their constant interactions with wildlife. But it wasn't nearly as magical as Reindeer Moon, and at the end of the book I was left thinking: what a desolate story. In the epilogue the author explained how her story was based on ancient Asian legends of an animal wife- think fox, in Japanese literature- and for a moment I had to think why, because unlike Reindeer Moon where people died and their spirits took different animal forms, in this story the woman never became an animal (although I expected her to!) No, she was seen as an animal because her captors in ignorance treated her as one, they assumed she was stupid because she could not speak their language or understand their customs. It was really very sad. I was pleased at first to see the reappearance of the tamed-wolf theme, but it did not end well even for the poor wolf. Everyone was left with less in the end. And yet I could not put the book down... Elizabeth Marshall Thomas is a darn good storyteller.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 289 pages, 1990

more opinions:
Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tales

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