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Iona20

Iona20

A Zoo in My Luggage - Gerald Durrell, Ralph Thompson

This is another enjoyable and amusing book by Gerald Durrell, an account of one his animal-collecting expeditions to Bafut in the British Cameroons in West Africa. I didn´t know where this was and had to look it up in my atlas; the country must now have changed its name. Previously, while collecting animals in that country, Durrell had been permitted to stay in the Palace of the Fon of Bafut. I don´t know what a Fon is, neither could I find the word in any dictionary, but Durrell states that he was a “potentate”. The Fon in question has innumerable wives and hordes of children; he is tall, elderly, and extremely entertaining. Durrell had written about the Fon following a previous stay with him, but had become afraid that his portrait of him might have been “open to misconstruction” and the Fon might have felt that Durrell had portrayed him as a senile alcoholic. So prior to the present trip he writes to the Fon asking with some trepidation whether he, his wife Jacquie and his team might again be allowed to enjoy his hospitality. It turned out however that the Fon had been most flattered by the unexpected fame he had encountered after being depicted in depth in Durrell´s book (I don´t know yet which one that was); many Europeans had visited the Fon with Durrell´s book in their hands, and the Fon had ended up autographing all these books, as though he himself had been the author! Durrell and wife are accommodated in the Fon´s Rest House and their extra team of two arrives later; many of the locals begin to queue up outside with animals (“beef”) they have collected to sell to them, news of their arrival having hastily spread. We´re apprised of the antics of a baby black-eared squirrel they receive, called Squill-bill small and of Bug-eyes, a needle-clawed lemur. On reading Durrell´s books we realize that each individual animal has its own distinct personality, just as we humans do. When talking to the Fon and the other locals, Durrell and the others use a form of pidgin English, only half of which I for one could understand. The Durrells and the Fon enjoy many entertaining get-togethers, with much dancing, singing and drinking, not least the latter. They are presented with many monkeys, and one of their favourites is a half-grown female baboon called Georgina. She has “a wicked sense of humour”, and this leads to many both amusing and less amusing escapades. Back in England, Georgina runs riot in a large department store, so they require the aid of two constables together with Durrell´s sister Margo to capture her. At the end of the book, Durrell by a stroke of serendipity finds a suitable place to deposit his animals and set up his zoo – in Jersey. Durrell is a master story-teller and recounts innumerable riotous episodes. To sum up, another delightfully entertaining book by Gerald Durrell, though perhaps it does not quite reach the level of “My family and other animals”, which is my favourite. The writing is excellent, there are many fascinating