I first read Gerald Durrell’s book excerpt in my 7th Standard. Since then, I wanted to get my hands on his books. Love of chocolates (something which I spent my entire pocket money on) prevented me from this book. It was also a tad too expensive. 😉
Anyway, my college library was the place where I managed to get my hands on the third part of the Corfu Trilogy, Garden of Gods and was hooked. Though I eventually managed to get the Corfu Trilogy (a birthday present), the Garden of Gods was my first love.
Gerald Durrell was a famous naturalist, who I believe, got the best of three vividly different worlds;The animal kingdom, the bird kingdom and the last but not the least Greece. Greece was a wonderful place to be during those times for the little naturalist, as he could collect the finest specimens of animals, birds and insects and when tired from his mini expeditions, retire under the tree with a hatful of wild juicy strawberries. In his childhood, which definitely an impressionable age, he lived with his family of eccentric yet lovable characters and was influenced by many other charming natives of Greece.
Gerald’s aim in his life at that point of time was to collect as many different specimens of animals, birds and insects as he could and annoy his brother, not necessarily in the same order. He would carry sumptuous lunches including sandwiches, juicy watermelons, and gooey chocolate cake and would be accompanied by his ever faithful dogs and his birthday present, his newly acquired donkey, Sally. This team would then go out all day and search and examine a variety of birds and animals and little Gerald would attempt to take as many as he could back home, much to the ire of his mother and siblings. Well, when you already own an owl, three dogs a black backed gull, twenty four terrapins and eight water snakes; you wouldn’t really want to have thirteen dogs, twelve hungry puppies and their mother. But that’s what Gerald wanted. No wonder you could hear their older brother Larry raving and ranting about the streak of lunacy that runs in their family.
His two siblings, the beautiful Margo and Leslie would always support Gerry and his menagerie of pets, just to annoy Larry. Mother was an old softie. When faced with a hypothetical question like “wouldn’t you just love to own three beautiful baby Eagle owls?” would immediately say a firm no, but when actually faced with three adorable owlets along with an impassioned plea from Gerry, she would give in and even help him hide from Larry.
Besides collecting animal specimens, Gerry’s favorite hobby was to play pranks. In this book, he describes the two hilarious pranks he played; one on purpose, another one quite unwittingly, nonetheless they are so amusing that you start laughing immediately, not mindful of where you are reading the book. You could be sitting in a train or library and a small anecdote will swoop upon you all of a sudden and you just won’t be able to stop your laughter.
A peculiar feature of Gerald Durrell’s books is that they are written in a disjointed fashion and are fast paced. One minute you are blissfully imagining the scene
“Cherry orchards looking as though some great dragon had been among trees, bespattering the leaves with scarlet and wine-red drops of blood…”
“Sunken garden full of tangerine trees and the silver-green olive groves to the sea, blue and smooth as a flower petal”
and the other minute you are faced with a comical family argument where Gerry’s jackdaw is described as “harmonium covered in feathers”, their mother declaring that she is going to leave civilization to become a hermit and the brother sister duo of Larry and Margo arguing whether or not he could become a Godfather.
All this is a little too jarring, but then the author himself has claimed that his childhood was so exciting, that he could fill up Encyclopedia Britannica and yet would have a few more things to add. It is such a wonderful book that this little mistake can be easily overlooked.
The characters introduced in this book are very endearing and adorable. There is Mama Kondos, described as a widow of eighty summers, who thinks that some misfortune has befallen Gerry since he did not come and visit her for a week, Spiro their handyman, who every morning very solemnly enquires about the health of their family and thinks that Turks are the reincarnation of Satan, Count Rosignol who has the quality of alienating and exuding hate signals from everyone including the dogs each time he opens his mouth and his only philosophy is “We do it better in France”, then Theodore, who is a nervous man and can be best described as a walking talking Encyclopedia, Captain Creech, a flirt and a womanizer and so many others that it would be impossible to finish this review.
I love this book because Gerald Durrell describes a magical world of Corfu, where tangerine trees were fragrant with the warmth of the early sun, the spring sully awake, stirring into life under a sky as blue as hyacinth bud into which a sun would rise, a place abundant with fruit and flowers, the sea ,warm and odd but amiable characters, that would want you to spend the entire day ecstatically dreaming about it. He will capture your attention and regale you with antics of people around him and even his own, make you laugh so hard and let knowledge seep into your mind, without letting you on. You can read and reread this book as many times as you want but you will never grow tired of it, but laugh and enjoy the beautiful sun lit childhood of Gerry and his unending menagerie of pets.