An­ima

Wa­jdi Mouawad Linda Ga­bo­riau (Trans­la­tor)

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction / Adult Nonfiction - SU­SAN WAG­GONER

Talon­books (NOVEM­BER) Soft­cover $18.95 (368pp) 978-1-77201-003-9

On one level, the book is a clas­sic mur­der mys­tery; on a deeper level, it echoes hu­man­ity at its most pri­mal.

Na­ture may be red in tooth and claw, but in Wa­jdi Mouawad’s out­stand­ing novel, An­ima, it’s hu­mans who are claw-deep in red and an­i­mals who be­nignly ob­serve.

An­ima be­gins with the dis­cov­ery of a bru­tal mur­der. The mur­derer is un­known, and the vic­tim’s hus­band is the un­lucky dis­cov­erer of her body. The de­tails of the mur­der, un­spar­ingly re­vealed in the coro­ner’s report, are so sav­age that they’re dif­fi­cult to read.

The hus­band’s emo­tional af­ter­math is nar­rated by var­i­ous an­i­mals who re­late bits and pieces of the story, with grief laid bare on ev­ery page. But wait: some­thing isn’t quite right here. Two an­i­mals, a rat and a skunk, not only fail to note the hus­band’s mourn­ing, but they see him as one of their own.

On one level, the book is a clas­sic mur­der mys­tery; on a deeper level, it echoes hu­man­ity at its most pri­mal. The an­i­mals who tell the tale soar above all, over­lay­ing the harsh, mono­chrome world of hu­mans with glimpses of a richer world, won­der­ful in its va­ri­ety but heart­break­ingly be­yond our per­cep­tion.

Such nar­ra­tive choices could eas­ily be­come gim­micky or pre­cious, but the writ­ing here is nei­ther. The an­i­mals are an­thro­po­mor­phized just enough to al­low for com­pre­hen­sion, while their own con­cerns—the crazed hunger of an ant be­fore spring brings fresh veg­e­ta­tion; a dog torn be­tween his de­sire to ex­plore and his devo­tion to the woman who com­manded him to stay put— are con­vinc­ingly wo­ven into the de­vel­op­ing plot.

There’s also so­phis­ti­cated word­play con­cealed in cer­tain chap­ter ti­tles. Each an­i­mal is iden­ti­fied by its Latin name, but some names are ex­tended to in­clude sly, faux-latin ref­er­ences. A chap­ter nar­rated by a mourn­ing cat who has taken to hid­ing be­hind a book­case is ti­tled “Felis Sil­vestris Ca­tus Carthu­siano­rum,” suggest­ing that the cat is fol­low­ing the path of Carthu­sian monks who chose lives of iso­la­tion and deep con­tem­pla­tion. Star­tling, in­ven­tive, and beau­ti­fully crafted,

An­ima con­veys small themes as well as large ones, and does so in a beguil­ing frame­work that ef­fec­tively bal­ances the story’s un­der­ly­ing sav­agery.

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