Animals

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From the winner of Argentina's National Endowment of the Arts Prize and the Manuel Rojas Ibero-American Narrative Prize comes this series of reflections on critters and their natural or not-so-natural habitats. Hebe Uhart's Animals tells of piglets that snack on crackers, parrots that rehearse their words at night, southern screamers that lurk at the front door of a decrepit aunt's house, and, of course, human animals, whose presence is treated with the same inquisitive sharpness and sweetness…

Hebe Uhart’s Animals can be summed up in one word: delightful. 

The 212 page book is like a marriage between Animal Planet and a conversation with a friend, in fact, within its pages Uhart describes the second-century Roman writer and teacher Aelian as the Animal Planet of his time. The pensive tone of the book in many ways reminded me of French author Muriel Barbery’s writing, which is perhaps fitting given the authors’ shared backgrounds in philosophy.

A central theme throughout the book is an exploration of protectionist versus conservationist thinking. As described by “Francsico” within the book:

As scholars of birds and animals, we are generally divided into two camps, the conservationists and the protectionists…[conservationists] don’t get hung up over the well-being of individuals within a species but are inclined toward species conservation. In the case of pests, for example the beavers that destroy other species, we don’t hesitate about killing them. A protectionist won’t kill a beaver even if it’s a pest that’s destroying the environment. In general, though not always, protectionism is related to vegetarianism and veganism.

Each chapter functions as its own anecdote, varying between childhood memories, wandering thoughts, collected research, and interviews with animal experts throughout South America. One of the beauties of the book is that it recognizes that expertise does not come from a degree – while Uhart’s interview subjects certainly include academics, they also include indigenous peoples, amateur animal enthusiasts, dog walkers, and more. The result is a mosaic of views that is grounded not only in research on animal intelligence but also in indigenous thinking, superstition, and popular beliefs. Animals creates a rounded view on animal life that is guaranteed to provide a new perspective on the relation between human animals, as homo sapiens are dubbed in this collection, and the rest of the animalia kingdom.

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