Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A-Z Wednesday: The Bafut Beagles by Gerald Durrell

• Book Title: The Bafut Beagles
• Author: Gerald Durrell
• ISBN: 0140012664
• Publisher: Penguin Books
• Year Published: 1971

This book chronicles Gerald Durrell's animal collecting expedition to the British Cameroon, in the late 1940's. It has interesting characters, human and animal. The portrait of the chief of Bafut is a stunning character study, and the country and the people are described with fondness. Durrell writes dancing monkeys, a midnight frog hunt, the night he taught the chief to dance the Conga, his group of hunters and their assorted pack of hunting dogs (the beagles), and the joys and inconvenience of keeping a large collection of wild animals.

This book was first published in 1954 but the actual collecting trip must have been in the late 40s. The Africa presented here is an anthropological journal. Durrell is respectful of the Africans and their culture, but this does not prevent him from sitting down and getting repeatedly sloshed with the local king. Durrell never refers to the people of Bafut as savages but the 'Bafut beagles' of the title refers to both the mongrel dogs that help him to collect animals and the Bafut hunters. He recounts that the hunters are superstitious, but he never stereotypes them. He communicates with the people of Bafut in pidgin English.

Durrell's fondness for Africa, its people and the animals pervades this narrative. He presents himself in a classic combination of self-deprecating humor, oddity, earthiness, but finally practicality and competence.

A native ruler known as the Fon, whom the D.O. said Durrell must be sure to get on his side if he hoped to succeed, ruled this grassland kingdom. The best way to do that was to prove he could carry his liquor!

As always, his love of "all creatures great and small" shows through even during such catastrophe as when he is bitten by what he thinks was a harmless blind snake, but he tells his cook, "'e get eye," a thing no member of the supposed species ever possessed. The best scenes are those in where the Fon appears roguish, irrepressible, and an indiscriminate lover of drink in every kind and combination, but he still proves to be the best collaborator, an animal collector could hope for--and a lover of the outdoors as well. Clad only in a loincloth and armed with a spear, he takes Durrell to see the evening manifestation of a colony of galagos, tiny arboreal creatures locally known as shillings.

All Durrell's books are great fun, but this is one of the best. This is one book I keep reading over and over again.



Bybee said...

I've always meant to read Durrell. I'm sure I'd like him.

Laurel-Rain Snow said...

Sounds intriguing!

Here's mine:

Nise' said...

Sounds like it could be very humerous at times. What happened to his large collection of wild animals?

jlshall said...

Nice review! I've been seeing this one everywhere lately - must be a really good read.

Here's my "B" book.

fredamans said...

This book is one that catches my animal-lover eyes. I think this is definitely going on my list!

Anonymous said...

I'm an animal lover so this book would be of interest to me!

Thanks for playing!

Natalie W said...

Sounds like a very interesting book! I'll have to check this one out.

Irene said...

sounds like a good read. My A-Z Wednesday, Blue Dahlia is here.

Beth said...

I will have to look for this one. I enjoyed Durrell's book from when he was a boy in Greece. Here is my "B" book.

beth said...

I keep meaning to read more Durrell. Thanks for the reminder.

Unknown said...

This book sounds like lots of fun. I've read his brother, Lawrence Durrell's novels but never any of Gerald's. I'll look or this one.