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"In the gloom it came along the branches towards me - its round, hypnotic eyes blazing; its spoon-like ears turning to and fro independently like radar dishes; its white whiskers touching and moving like sensors; the thin, attenuated fingers on its black hands tapping delicately on the branches as it moved along, like those of a pianist playing a complicated piece by Chopin."
Thus does Gerald Durrell - scientist, conservationist, and humorist par excellence - describes his first encounter with the legendary Aye-aye, the beast with the magic finger that still lurks, though in fast dwindling numbers, in the forests of Madagascar.
Once thought to be extinct, the Aye-aye, one of the world's strangest creatures, is now found only in small, isolated colonies. Durrell's mission to Madagascar was to try and capture some, bring them back to his world-famous zoo on the island of Jersey, and breed them. Although on a serious scientific expedition, Gerald Durrell has a unique vision and inimitable sense of humor that make his observations and comments wondrously funny no matter how difficult or trying the circumstances. Nothing escapes his sharp eye, whether he is describing the great zoma market, the village dances, the dangerous bridges and river crossings, the strange foods and stranger magic, or the vagaries of local officialdom.
As in all of Durrell's best writings, it is the animals who are the stars: here, in addition to the Aye-aye itself, the reader will delight in the author's depiction of the cat-like Fosa, the Flat-tailed tortoise, the Gentle lemurs of Lake Aloatra, and the Malagasy chameleon (which, according to Durrell, "looks as if he gets his clothes from a colour-blind Parisian designer").
"It is impossible," noted the San Francisco Chronicle, "for Gerald Durrell to write anything that is less exuberant, eccentric, and amusing." In his account of this wildlife "rescue mission," Durrell is, very simply, at his superb best.
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Another delightful excursion into nature by the always amusing Durrell, who's proving to be as prolific as many of his animal charges (Marrying Off Mother, 1992; The Ark's Anniversary, 1991-- and 23 other titles). Once again, Durrell is off to collect another candidate for his admirable Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust, which builds up breeding colonies of endangered species on the island of Jersey off the English coast. This time, his quarry is one of the strangest and least studied creatures in God's zoo--the elusive aye-aye, a rare lemur found only on Madagascar. To Durrell, it resembles nothing so much as ``a Walt Disney witch's black cat with a touch of E.T. thrown in''; most prominent of its many strange features (which include ``spoonlike ears turning to and fro independently like radar dishes'') is its elongated third finger, much sought-after by village sorcerers as a magic charm. Upon arriving in Madagascar, Durrell spends much of his time sitting on the toilet, a victim of the runs. But he gets around enough to admire the island's exotic markets, language, and women, and to deplore the deforestation that has denuded so much of the landscape and threatens the habitat of many species. Soon enough, as always in a Durrell book, the animals themselves take center stage. In addition to the chief target, Durrell collects endangered flat-tailed tortoises, gentle lemurs, and giant jumping rats the size of cats. He also spies the most elusive of Madagascar creatures, the puma-like Fosa, as well as hammerhead shark, ploughshare tortoises, and dense clouds of houseflies (``the tent poles were black with them, the table top a black moving tablecloth of them''). Finally, after funny tribulations, including an encounter with a native soothsayer, he scores six aye-ayes, now safe and snug and, one hopes, making baby aye-ayes in Jersey. A hearty ``aye'' for this one. (Eight-page color insert--not seen.) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.From Library Journal:
What do you do when you are an avid naturalist, founder and head of the noted Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust, and you have a spiritual experience with a little-known, extremely rare primate called an aye-aye? If you are the author, you muster an expedition to film and capture the creature to preserve it for future generation. Like its predecessors (e.g., The Ark's Anniversary , LJ 8/91), Durrell's 24th book is an often humorous romp to a faraway place--this time, the island of Madagascar off the southeast coast of Africa. Readers will be entertained by Durrell's descriptions of events that occurred during the expedition to capture a breeding population of aye-aye. Durrell also gives readers a feel for the difficulties encountered in dealing with the politics and inconveniences of Third World countries, but never in a derogatory or sarcastic manner. The Aye-Aye and I is rich in description yet never bogs down in scientific detail. For popular natural history collections.
- Edell Marie Schaefer, Brookfield P.L., Wis.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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