Zoo Story by Thomas French
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  • In other words, it is the best kind of story

    • by agoobacha

      Although I am a very infrequent nonfiction reader, Thomas French’s Zoo Story, a nonfiction account of the rise and fall of a Tampa zoo, is one of the most touching and beautiful stories I have read in recent times. French’s work as a local Tampa journalist led him to quite a few stories at the Lowry Park Zoo over the years, some of them uplifting, others heartbreaking, yet all of them fascinating. Zoo Story is the collection of these vignettes into a cohesive and well-presented narrative. Opening with ten completely wild Swazi elephants on a plane, heading toward their new home in Florida, across the world and miles away from all they have ever known,

      French creates an image that cannot help but imprint. Their arrival heralded with excitement, amazement, and, in some cases threats of violence, the elephants are immediately immersed in the lively happenings of their new home.

      Theirs is not the only story worth telling and leaving them to their acclimation, French moves on to the other inhabitants of the zoo. There is Herman the chimp, the oldest resident at Lowry Park, who shares with human males the proclivity for tan, blonde females, and Enshalla, the Queen of the zoo, a Sumatran tiger that exhibits a strong feminist ethic by rejecting every “suitor” that is presented to her. At first glance the stories are humorous, after all who could ...

      • resist chuckling at a chimp making advances on some unsuspecting woman? Or watching a female tiger rebuff males twice her size? Yet French also conveys a deep sadness through these excerpts of animal life; Herman is emotionally unable to relate to others of his species due to a human upbringing, and by refusing to mate Enshalla is bringing her species that much closer to extinction.

        As he expertly weaves the lives of the animals with those of their loving keepers, French creates a panoramic view of one of the most common institutions in America, a zoo. No matter how common, however, zoos are constantly at the heart of a heated debate: is it right to keep feeling,

        sensitive animals in captivity? Is it right to leave them to a more gruesome fate? Where is the line between good intention and greed drawn? French maneuvers around these questions, giving them ample attention without coming down firmly on any one side. The result is a beautiful panorama of life in various shapes, sizes, and species. This is the kind of story that remains with you long after you have closed the book, it is the kind of story that you tell over and over to all your friends, the kind of story that gives rise to various ethical dilemmas and provokes thought and conversation. In other words, it is the best kind of story.

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