Saturday, July 30, 2011

Mini-Review of "Jamrach's Menagerie" - A Novel of Survivor's Guilt and PTSD

What a wonderfully inventive story. "Jamrach's Menagerie" struck me as containing elements that reminded me of the "Story of Pi," "Moby Dick" and "The "Odyssey." Carol Birch has concocted a mini-epic that follows the street urchin, Jaffy, from his chance encounter with a tiger on the teeming streets of London, to a search for a komodo dragon in the Indonesian archipelego. Shipwrecked, he and his companions confront the primal challenges of survival, sacrifice, and the true meaning of friendship and loyalty. This is a whale of a good story. I loved it.

The author raises some deep philosophical questions about survivor's guilt and post-traumatic stress that are very relevant to many of our warriors returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. After Jaffy has been rescued following several months adrift at sea, he confronts people wanting to know what it was like. The following encounter reminds me of tales I have heard from returning soldiers who have to face the thoughtless questions from those who wonder "Have you killed anyone?"

In order to survive, Jaffy and his fellow survivors were forced to eat the flesh of their boat mates who had succumbed. Those ashore had heard rumors of the cannibalism.

"'Mister, what was it like?'

I took my time, leaning back and blowing out a thin stream of smoke. . .

He wanted a story. a thing of horror. I have a story, a terrible one. But I'll tell no tales. He doesn't understand at all: it's not that kind of a story, not horror but grief I have to deal with. Too much to tell. What shall I do with it?

Live with it." (Page 276)

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