Perhaps only the animals can tell us what it is to be human
The souls of ten animals caught up in human conflicts over the last century and connected to both famous and little-known writers in surprising ways tell their astonishing stories of life and death. In a trench on the Western Front, a cat recalls her owner Colette's theatrical antics in Paris. In Nazi Germany, a dog seeks enlightenment. A Russian tortoise once owned by the Tolstoys drifts in space during the Cold War. During the Siege of Sarajevo, a starving bear tells a fairy tale. And a dolphin sent to Iraq by the U.S. Navy writes a letter to Sylvia Plath.
Exquisitely written, playful, and poignant, Ceridwen Dovey's Only the Animals is a remarkable literary achievement by one of our brightest young writers. An animal's-eye-view of humans at our brutal, violent worst and our creative, imaginative best, it asks us to find our way back to empathy not only for animals but for other people, and to believe again in the redemptive power of reading and writing fiction.
By appropriating history, mythology, folklore, and even astrology, Dovey (Blood Kin) finds impressive depth and complexity in the souls of an array of animals. Each of her 10 stories has a resonant historical setting, opens with a relevant quotation or two, and gains additional context by citing noted authors who have also written about the species. In "Red Peter's Little Lady," set in Germany in 1917, the title chimpanzee, who is quickly adopting human traits, sends a series of courtship letters to his arranged partner Hazel, through her human caretaker. "Plautus: A Memoir of My Days on Earth and Last Days in Space," written from outer space in 1968, imagines a tortoise of advanced age sent into space by the Soviets after a colorful life as the pet of both George Orwell and Virginia Woolf. A black bear, a brown bear, and a witch are at the center of "Telling Fairytales," set in 1992 during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Other stories focus on a camel, a cat (belonging to Colette), a dog, a mussel, an elephant (killed not by poachers but by desperate villagers), a dolphin (writing a letter to Sylvia Plath), and a parrot. Dovey finds humanity in her diverse protagonists, and the stories are full of surprises, warmth, and insight.