“What kind of Navy officer sits on his ship in the middle of the Mediterranean dreaming of gerbils?”
That’s the question that Holly Robinson sets out to answer in this warm and rollicking memoir of life with her father, the world’s most famous gerbil czar.
Starting with a few pairs of gerbils housed for curiosity’s sake in the family’s garage, Donald Robinson’s obsession with the “pocket kangaroo” developed into a lifelong passion and second career. Soon the Annapolis-trained Navy commander was breeding gerbils and writing about them for publications ranging from the ever-bouncy Highlights for Children to the erudite Science News. To support his burgeoning business, the family eventually settled on a remote hundred-acre farm with horses, sheep, pygmy goats, peacocks–and nearly nine thousand gerbils.
From part-time model for her father’s bestselling pet book, How to Raise and Train Pet Gerbils, to full-time employee in the gerbil empire’s complex of prefab Sears buildings, Holly was an enthusiastic if often exasperated companion on her father’s quest to breed the perfect gerbil. Told with heart, humor, and affection, The Gerbil Farmer’s Daughter is Holly’s ode to a weird and wonderful upbringing and her truly one-of-a-kind father.
Robinson, a former contributing editor to Ladies' Home Journal, wryly narrates this memoir about growing up with a stern navy father who abruptly takes up breeding the then little-known gerbil in the late 1960s. Though her mother equates the creatures with rats, and her father must keep his behavior hushed in his military circles, his hobby soon becomes an obsession that he believes will not only make him an income but allow him to retire. Robinson grew up as a fish out of water navy brat in the 1970s with a strong-willed mother and younger siblings including her sister Gail who died of cystic fibrosis at age four. But her father is the true focus; he accidentally discovers that gerbils have epileptic seizures, a discovery that leads him to become the world's largest supplier of gerbils bred for research. Robinson intersperses her compelling narrative with accounts of gerbil mayhem, managing to milk a great deal of humor and pathos out of the rodent that eventually became a common children's pet.