Mar 31, 2015

Three Singles to Adventure

by Gerald Durrell

The book starts abruptly, without much introduction or explanation. It was the early 1950's, when Durrell (looks to be in his twenties, from a photo in the book) and a few companions set off for Guiana, on a trip to collect wild animals for zoos. (He seems already experienced at this venture- I wonder as I read more of his books, if I'd find one that describes his initial attempts. I bet that's hilarious). The title comes from a phrase referencing the tickets bought, with end destination a small village called Adventure. Through scenery strikingly reminiscent of the last book I read (but much briefer!) they travel into South America and visit a number of small villages and settlements, seeking a variety of specimens to take home. Sometimes he made short forays into the forest with his companions, but more often than not they simply asked the locals to show them animals- purchasing those the natives kept as pets or animals that hunters caught for them. He mentions quite a few curious creatures. Snakes, monkeys, lizards and caiman were common. More interesting to me was reading about the capybara, agouti, tree porcupine and an anteater they tried to catch by chasing it down on horseback and lassoing it! I was surprised at the final count: he had more than five hundred animals (of a variety of species) collected when it was time to board ship and home. Then describes the difficulties in keeping the animals clean and fed, and the inevitable losses (but doesn't say how many- I wonder how high the toll really was). The author's admiration for wildlife really shines through the pages, in spite of the fact that he was pulling them out of their native habitat to cart home for display and scientific study. It really seems he did the best he could by them. As well as delight in reading about the animals, there are lots of different characters here in the people met on their travels. One in particular that kept me laughing was a man eager to guide them, who continually had to impress and "one-up" with a better story, every time something happened. There are also lots of amusingly awkward incidents when animals nearly get away, and misunderstandings when communication was difficult.

It was sometimes a puzzle to read and try to picture the wildlife- they did not have the same common names I know, as Durrell often referred to them by local names- "pimpla hog" was a tree porcupine, "pipa toad" the surinam toad (I myself only first heard of this animal a year ago!), "sakiwinki" were the squirrel monkeys, and so on. The "crab dog" a type of raccoon- it amused me that this was such a strange animal to Durrell, until I remembered he was from England (raccoons are so familiar to me, but then they're native to the Americas. In his time perhaps he had never seen one before). I kept forgetting that "uwarie" was a possum- despised by the locals because it was a scavenging pest- they were astonished and delighted that Durrell's team eagerly bought these animals- I imagine it would be like someone coming here asking around to buy rats or cockroaches for their curiosity.

Rating: 3/5       191 pages, 1954

2 comments:

Cath said...

I think The Overloaded Ark was his first outing, though I'm not positive. I read it last year and it doesn't have explanations as far as I remember. I have a biography by Douglas Botting which I'm sure will say although My Family and Other Animals about his childhood on Corfu does explain his fascination with animals. I do love his books, but don't know this one you've read. I do have another South American one though, The Whispering Land... that's from 1961.

Jeane said...

I've read the whispering land too. And just now started My family and other animals. I know he's written a lot of books I've never heard of though- LibraryThing has 87 titles to his name!