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4.6 out of 5 stars
A Zoo in My Luggage
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Naturalist/writer Gerald Durrell, with a writer's eye for unusual detail, a great sense of humor and absurdity, and an unquenchable enthusiasm for finding unique animals, recounts his third animal-collecting trip to the Cameroons in this classic 1960 memoir, recently reprinted. Supplying other people's zoos for many years, Durrell, on this trip, intends to collect specimens for his own zoo, one which will be open to the public and which will become a "self-supporting laboratory" with a captive breeding program to prevent the extinction of these species.
Arriving on the west coast of Cameroon, Durrell uses pidgin to converse with the Africans and refers to all animals as "beef," but he soon acquires many rare animals from the local population. A frightening canoe ride through hippo-infested waters, an attempt to capture a fifteen-foot python, a search for the blue-scalped, bald-headed Picanthartes bird, and the experience of smoking out a hollow tree keep Durrell and his staff energized and excited before they head to the highlands. There, Durrell stays with the charming Fon of Bafut, a elderly king with many wives, and he and Durrell enjoy many long evenings of talk, dance, and whisky. Soon the Fon's compound fills up with hundreds more captive reptiles, birds, and animals, including a half-grown baboon, a five-year-old chimp, and a baby chimp, all of which provide innumerable, often hilarious adventures.
Durrell provides details about the caring and feeding of these animals, and he and his staff prove to be very "hands-on" caretakers, often having animals creep into their beds. The logistics of building cages and, eventually, packing them for the trip home, reveal the level of detail necessary to keep these animals healthy and calm so they can survive the trip to England. Upon his return, Durrell then begins the daunting task of trying to find a place to house these rare specimens, a task he neglected ahead of time.
A lively writer with a commitment to conservation but a tremendous sense of fun, Durrell gives the flavor of the whole trip, not just the academic details, providing realism at the same time that he reveals irrepressible humor, much of it directed at himself. His sensitivity to his surroundings, which he conveys through vibrant descriptions, makes the countryside come alive, while his anecdotes about the animals and the people he meets show his interest in expanding his knowledge while fully participating in events around him. Though there is no epilogue to bring the reader up to date on the success of Durrell's zoo or its captive breeding program, this information is readily available at: [...] Mary Whipple
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 28 July 2010
No matter how 'out of date' his books may be now, Gerald Durrell remains an absolute pleasure to read. Not only does he have a wealth of fascinating experience from which to draw, he has an excellent eye for detail. His style is dry, amusing, and full of that oh-so-English litotes which is so rarely seen in newer writing. I often found myself laughing out loud at his delightful way of phrasing things.

I did find the constant use of pigdin grated a little. However, this was mostly because it sounded like JarJar Binks, and I can hardly blame Gerald Durrell for something that was George Lucas' fault some 40 years after he wrote this book. I became used to reading it fairly quickly though, and it soon ceased to actively annoy me.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 50 REVIEWERon 25 June 2012
This is an autobiographical account of how Gerald Durrell (an already much experienced "animal rustler") assembled his own private collection of exotic animals which, in due course and against considerable odds, became the backbone of his zoo on the island of Jersey (now the Durrell Wildlife Park).

I would not normally want to read about wild animals in a zoo, but this is the story of a passionate animal lover who is committed to doing what it takes to save at least some of the species that mankind's unstoppable spread is driving into extinction. Durrell's very real affection for the assorted creatures he is determined to preserve shines through, and even surpasses his scientific curiosity and commitment to studying their habits.

Durrell's writing style is amusing, lively and enjoyable, despite some unavoidably outdated attitudes. There is an irrepressible optimism that drives the search-and-collect party into dodgy situations and their mishaps are related with both humour and humanity. The growing menagerie also provide many hilarious anecdotes with their escapades and strong personalities. To communicate with the locals, Durrell employs a kind of Pidgin English which is, in itself, humorous but the main reason to read this book (more than once, in my case) is that once again we get to meet the Fon of Bafut, a fascinating personage who has befriended Durrell & Co. on a previous expedition and is instrumental in the success of this present trip. The Fon is the most fun-loving, generous and uninhibited host one could wish for and, for me at least, the chapters where he appears are the best part of this delightful book. There are some charming pen-and-ink illustrations by Richard Thompson but I wish they had included a photo or two of the Fon himself. A truly funny book, even if you don't care about the animals. Read this for the humour, the scientific titbits are extra.
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This book was obviously written as a money earner by the author and is a light and amusing tale of a trip to Cameroon to collect animals for a zoo he is hoping to open. It slides over the obvious potential hardships of such a trip and concentrates on the lighthearted and funny moments in a bid to entertain rather than inform. Consequently the African people he meets and his travelling colleagues tend to be lightly sketched and rather insubstantial as characters other than as a foil for his tales about the animals.

If you read the book in this light you can see quickly that the author has a gift for amusing storytelling. Each episode in the book is carefully told to give you a bit of information about the animals and comes to an amusing conclusion. This makes the book an easy one to dip in and out of but I read a lot of it in one go and found it engaging whilst occasionally wondering if there wasn't a little bit more to some of the events - they are very obviously simplified for the sake of the book.

The book is set in the 1960s when it was written and I expect that the way that the animals were collected, travelled and kept would not be acceptable these days but the author's obvious affection and fascination with them is the dominating theme of the book. The relationship he has with the local African leader makes for slightly uncomfortable reading these days because of its occasional air of patronisation and the obvious parallels between the fascination that the author has for the African people and that for the native animals. It would not have been read like that when it was first published and should really be read now in the spirit in which it was written.

This book isn't of the calibre of "My Family and Other Animals" but is a light and amusing read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 3 March 2013
Gerald Durrell was not only a terrific writer, he was also a fascinating and interesting person. This story of his adventures in Africa and his cooperation and friendship with the African chief makes the book a pleasure and delight to read. I have read his story of his boyhood in Corfu and now I will purchase his other books over the next year or so and know that I will enjoy thoroughly relaxed and enjoyable reading. I have also visited his excellent zoo in Jersey where all the animals are kept in roomy well equipped and clean accomodation.
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The Fon of Bafut is one of the most memorable characters I've read in a very long time; he's funny, generous and likes drinking excess quantities of whisky and any other alcoholic beverage. The Fon has over 40 wives and just as many colourful outfits. The pidgin English between Gerald and the natives is charming and equally fascinating to read. As a reader of My Family And Other Animals it's nice to see how Gerald has carried on his passion for wildlife. It is very easy to read and there are many delightful animals that any person will fall in love with once they read about them. It challenged my opinion that the Africans were familiar with the native fauna as many people went to visit them while they were stationed at the Fon's compound.

As with anything that's good there are always some bad points. It is not as funny as I expected and not much information about the rest of his family is given. An introduction to the Fon would have been extremely satisfying.

Over all this book would appeal anyone with a strong sense of humour, especially if you are an animal lover.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 3 November 2012
After collecting animals for others, Gerald Durrell writes an enchanting description of how he collected animals for his own zoo. The descriptions of the animals and the difficulties of keeping them alive and healthy in captivity make great reading for anyone with an interest in natural history.
His great affection for the local African people shines through also.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 17 January 2001
An extremly good book that shows Gerald Durrel at his best. It takes you to Bafut and then to Bournemouth with an array of witty characters, animal and human. I would suggest this book to everyone that likes animals and anyone that likes a good laugh. One of his best yet!!!
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on 25 April 2013
This is by Gerald Durrell the naturalist who wrote My Family and Other Animals. It tells the story of how he wanted to open his own zoo. I bought this for my 9 year old son as he likes animals and he thought it was a fantastic book. Great characters, good story line and he has really enjoyed it. He has read all the usual Harry Potter, Ronald Dahl, Wimpy Kid etc and this was something different. Would definately recommend it for any boys who like to read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 26 December 2012
I read this book years ago, I always enjoy Gerald Durrell, you learn something but he is always funny as well
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