I picked up this audiobook back in December, while Jason and I were visiting an unfamiliar library branch during our day out for our anniversary. I like zoos, and I thought it might make an interesting bit of nonfiction. I just finished it this evening, and unfortunately, I don’t think I got very much out of the book.
First, there seemed to be no cohesive narrative. The book started with a fairly strong narrative thrust, talking about the eleven elephants being flown from Swaziland to two zoos in America, a zoo in San Diego, and Lowry Park in Tampa. From that, I thought the book would focus on the elephants’ journey, their adjustment to life at the two zoos, and perhaps branch out to other animals within the zoo (after all, there is a monkey, not an elephant, on the cover). Well, it sort of did that, but without any sort of organization (and only following the Lowry Park zoo). The elephant section went on for awhile, then suddenly switched to poison dart frogs, and then to chimps, and then to tigers, and then to elephants again, and then to fundraisers, and then to goats, and then to manatees, and then back to chimps, and then to legal troubles, and then to elephants, etc etc. Even after finishing the entire book, I’m still not sure I know what the author’s point was in writing it.
Beyond the disorganization and lack of cohesiveness, the book was ultimately very forgettable. There were animals who kept recurring in the narrative, and once they’d shown up enough I would remember who they were, but for the most part, I kept having to stop and try to remember each animal and person re-introduced, mostly because they were only introduced in small snippets. To give an example of just how forgettable the narrative was, when I first started listening to the book about a week ago, I realized that I’d apparently already listened to half of the first CD, all about the elephants on the plane and in Africa, and didn’t even remember the original listening. Even on listening to that section again, there were only tiny segments that I recognized, and I’m a huge fan of elephants, so I should remember!
Then, there were multiple annoying tangent sections, where the author would spend a good deal of time making very basic observations and trying to make them sound creative. For example, he spent an entire chapter describing a posh fundraising event in ways that made the humans sound like zoo animals, because it’s oh so clever to compare humans to their animal counterparts? Yeah. There were also big rants against animal rights activists and Lowry Park’s power-hungry CEO, only to have the narrative turn around and defend both of those things as well. It was as if the author was trying to report in both a biased and unbiased way. It was confusing. Another thing: the author spent a lot of time interpreting the thoughts in both people and animals’ minds, which irritates me on a personal level.
Lastly, the audio production was not good at all. It was read by John Allen Nelson, who not only gave all the quoted sections horribly stereotyped accents, but read all the sad sections while pretending to cry. He also didn’t pause at all for section breaks, which made the lack of cohesive narrative even harder to follow. He’d read one line about tiger mating, and follow it up without pause with a line about expeditions to Panama for golden frogs. It made the book even more confusing.
I honestly have no idea why I kept going with the book. I kept thinking I would learn something about zoos, or about animals, or something. And to be fair, I did learn a few odd tidbits – like the fact that poison dart frogs aren’t poisonous in captivity because they’re not eating the ants with which they make their venom – and hearing about the elephant birth was really adorable. But really, I didn’t get much out of the book, and I’m still not sure what the author intended anyone to get out of it. It was too biased and political – even when simultaneously contradicting it’s own biases and opinions – to be just a look at the workings of a zoo. It was too focused on people to be a look at the life of zoo animals. And it was too self-contradictory to espouse any sort of political agenda. Even at the end, when it finally seemed to have a late-forming opinion (“the CEO was a bad bad man!”), it turned around and defended that same man after an entire hour’s worth of audio devoted to ripping him to pieces. Yeah.
I don’t know. It just didn’t work for me, I guess.