Book Review: My Husband and Other Animals 2 by Janaki Lenin

Book Name: My Husband and Other Animals 2: The Wildlife Adventure Continues

Author: Janaki Lenin

Publisher: Westland

Rating: 5/5

Book Blurb: ‘We’ve lived here at Pambukudivanam for 20 years now and many are the trees we planted that you can’t put your arms around. Orioles, treepies, woodpeckers, king¬fishers, spotted owlets and parakeets also call it home, and the resident rat snake regularly sheds his 7-foot-long skin below the expansive banyan tree shading our house.’ – Rom Whitaker

My Husband and Other Animals, Janaki Lenin’s first book, was lauded by readers and critics alike. With this compilation, she returns with more stories of the quirky and wonderful life she shares with her husband, Rom Whitaker, and an array of wild creatures—from leopards to king cobras.

Janaki’s enthusiasm and passion for the wild finds a voice in the pages of her book, while her curiosity about the world she inhabits infuses these lighted-hearted, yet thought-provoking stories with unique insight. As much a chronicle of Janaki and Rom’s unusual life as it is a wild and eventful journey, My Husband and Other Ani¬mals 2: Wildlife Adventures Continue is a witty, delightful read.

Review: I first stumbled upon Janaki Lenin’s biography on the internet while I was trying to find some naturalists or biologists to interview for an environment website that I edit. Janaki’s profile was appealing but I knew very little about her. I did know about her famous husband (thanks to the NGC documentaries) and immediately sent an email asking her if she would grant us an interview. Imagine my surprise when she replied back promptly saying she didn’t mind getting interviewed but she was not a traditional conservationist and more of an author. I then pitched the prospect of an interview for New Asian Writing which was pretty small back then and she agreed. You can read the interview here. Soon after, I became a follower of her blog and have found her writings full of insight and I am yet to come across another writer that brings nature so close to her readers in India. As somebody who has grown up on a healthy diet of Gerald Durrell’s works and worships the immortal ‘My Family and Other Animals’ as the most hilarious book ever written, Janaki’s writings are nostalgic and something I look forward to.

This particular book which is basically a collection of her writings for a popular newspaper column is full of scientific information that is hard to come by. It must be tough for her to write about science but its also a blessing in disguise since she writes for the layman and tends to avoid the technical jargon unless absolutely necessary.

The obvious downside of the book given the fact that its compiled from earlier writings is that the chapters are too short and lack a continuous structure but think of it as a journal and you will like it. Janaki provides some cool insights into the animal world that she encountered while living with Rom and it makes for a fascinating read.

The chapter ‘Do Snakes Have Personalities’ is full of important information:

“it was only recently, when a film crew used high-speed cameras that we realized cobras strike at their tormentors from the defensive posture without opening their mouths. They are merely head butting.”

She also shares snippets of her personal life with Rom who is older and like in most Indian families, her own marriage was a bit frowned upon initially:

“Inquisitive strangers asked if I was Rom’s daughter. At a college town, someone though I was his granddaughter. ‘I’m his wife,’ I retorted, and they squirmed with embarrassment.” 

She discusses the perils and perks of having a famous husband but she’s managed to build up a successful career for herself and is doing a great job at it. The book also has some life lessons as she discusses her career choices and for somebody like me who doesn’t have a definite career plan either, it was a bit delightful to read that it’s alright not to have a career plan and rather ‘do what you love’ is the best policy! She is rightly motivated by Rom who advises her to not think about the money and just write if that’s what she wanted. Thankfully, she took the advice or else, we’d be deprived of such a magnificent book.

Janaki has an easy grasp of language and writes well. Her easy, colloquial method of writing makes for a breezy read. You can complete this book in one session alone as the chapters are simple, short and you’d want to finish it since its so engaging and full of infotainment. It is like a fully paid for nature trip in words!

There are accounts of Komodos, snakes obviously, elephants, raccoons, leopards, even taboo subjects such as homosexuality and sexual assault in the animal kingdom. I wonder if there is a genre for this kind of writing? Let’s just stick to non-fiction for now, shall we?

There’s wit, a lot of information on animal behavior (minus the scientific terms we all hate), some emotional moments and she’s managed to keep it all about the animals. It should appeal to all- right from children to adults. There is something here for everyone.

My Husband and Other Animals 2 is a unique book and if you are looking for a book that would be the perfect present for a child on his birthday, there is no better book on the market right now. Eagerly waiting for volume 3.


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