As summer 2023 is kicking off and we start longing for the smell of sunscreen and hot sand, the book of the month shall manifest itself with a really special purpose: to get you covered on the perfect beach read!
Of course, we all have different tastes in terms of beach reads. Some of us want them to be Crime, others love indulging in good summertime sadness vibes and others love matching the author of their reading with the Country they are sunbathing in.
However, if you have none of these preferences and you are just looking for some good literature and a feel-good story, then you should check our friend Gerald Durrel out.
My Family and Other Animals is a book about a little kid obsessed with animals that wanders about the wild lands of Corfu under the scorching sun of the Mediterranean summer. “Fair enough”, you might think, but there is so much more to that if you give this masterpiece a shot. “Like what?” Do you ask? Well, here’s the deal
It’s (Almost) All True!
So the book was written in 1955 by zoologist G. Durrel who, at the time, was taking some time off to recover from a severe icterus. In those pages, he recollected five years of his childhood spent in the isle of Corfu, where he moved with his family when he was 10. He was there with his widowed mother and three siblings and, although the author doesn’t reveal the reason, we somehow get that the family needed to stay away from soggy England and retire on a peaceful mediterranean island. Kinda see their point there.
The narrator is 10 year old Gerald himself and what you might love about it is to see a little kid running around the deserted lands of Corfu searching for weird animals and secret new places with his best friend Roger, the most patient and caring dog of all.
The book, therefore, is autobiographical and it holds in itself all the nostalgia, emotionality and vivid pictures of everyday life typical of the genre. Obviously, some parts of his real life on the island might have been polished out a little bit and some others completely altered, to make the narration more fluent.
It doesn’t matter: what you lost in autobiographical precision, you gained in authenticity. The way the little boy Gerald perceives nature, it sort of takes us into a more tender, honest version of an Emersonian childhood, in which greek shepherds serve you plumpy figs under the shades of olive trees and teach you how to catch scorpions.
Free Your Inner Child.
My parents took me to a Greek island once, when I was 15. There I met an old blind man, the owner of the Bed and Breakfast where we spent the first three nights. In the evenings, the man would pour me an inch of rakia in a small glass and start telling me the stories of the island, how its people sought independence, how they took care of their land and how proud they were of their ancient heritage.
Probably it is this memory, together with the smell of Helichrysum and the sound of the strong wind polishing the rocky grounds of the cliffs, that kept me on this book’s pages for weeks. The man who wrote them knew the lands he was writing about like only a child would: the eye of curiosity scans all the little things that make nature mesmerising. Afterall, the Devil is in the details. Plus, by the time he wrote this book, the man was a zoologist, so you get to know all sorts of curiosities on bugs and fishes!
The Writing is Dope.
Well, If zoology couldn’t persuade you to get My Family and Other Animals, I will not push you further. However, if not for the animal part, do it for Corfu. The author doesn’t romanticise the life on the island: there is no sublime in that nature, neither bucolic expectations nor exoticisation of the inhabitants (not bad for a Brit born in the 20s).
Everything is told rather respectfully, with that bittersweet touch of nostalgia that makes everything warmer, softer, like the rosie cheeks of a panting boy, resting under the shade of a tree after chasing a very strange, fast bug under the sun.