The name George Durrell first reached my ears when my sister’s ex-boyfriend talked about him. He – the ex – was into animals and was completely over the moon with Durrell’s works. I admired his zeal in regaling us about Durrell and his predilection for animals, but then he disappeared from our lives and so I completely forgot about him until I chanced upon a video of Tom Hiddleston reading a letter in Letters Live in London. Tom Hiddleston was the guest reader and he was to read a love letter of Durrell to his second wife, Lee McGeorge, which was both comical and romantic. The comical part was when he said she shouldn’t make the letter public – too late for that – and the romantic part was when he described the fantastic experiences he had with nature and the animals, but which he would gladly exchange for a mere minute with his wife.
Durrell’s poignant descriptions of the animals and their natural habitats were imprinted in my mind thus I never forgot his name. Fortuitously, I stumbled upon several books by Durrell selling for a mere US$0.99 apiece in a Salvation Army store in Santa Clarita, California. I chose “A Zoo in My Luggage”, which proved a good decision because it’s engaging (his witticisms never wane), entertaining (describing himself drenched in the urine of baby black-footed mongoose hidden in his shirt had me in stitches), and educational (his explanation of how egg-eating snakes swallowed eggs was lucid).
“A Zoo in My Luggage” chronicled Durrell’s journey to the Cameroons with his wife and staff to “hunt” for rare species (which he called “beef”) of animals. The result is his own private zoo. Durrell’s prose is smooth and engaging, each paragraph grabbing hold of the reader by the shoulders, and not letting go until the chapter has ended. Durrell’s great passion for the animals jumped out of the sentences as he expressed the gamut of feelings, ranging from admiration to frustration, going through him as he dealt with the animals on a very personal level. For a person who likes animals from a distance, “A Zoo in My Luggage” is a good way to start the journey into the animal world and, in the process, learn about good prose structure.