Thursday, 3 March 2016

The Man I Became by Peter Verhelst

translated from the Dutch by David Colmar

review by Maryom


A family of gorillas are snatched from their jungle home, transported across the sea, trained to become 'human' and used as part of the attractions of a theme park. One of them, the Narrator, learns well, is quickly promoted and receives the badge to prove he's now 'human'. But he soon finds himself torn between what he's been taught and what he instinctively feels, and when he discovers the theme park turns out to be hiding a clandestine trade he's driven to take action...

Now, this is a strange book and if I said 'It's about a gorilla who becomes human' I'm not sure all of you would be flocking to read it, but if I said "it's like a modern version of Animal Farm" or even somewhat like this clip from Not The Nine O'Clock News, where the animal becomes more human than his teacher, you might be tempted. Yes, it contains a certain level of ambiguity; should you consider it's events literally? is it, perhaps, set in some future world where animals actually can be changed into humans?  or is it a fable or fairy tale in which an animal acquires human attributes? or even a serious scientific experiment as seen in?  Probably best to not get hung up too much about these dilemmas, just read it.

The publisher, Meike Ziervogel, says it "leaves behind images that play in your mind long after you have closed the book", and she's absolutely right. I've read a couple of books, after The Man I Became, and found ideas from it creeping in to what I'm reading now.

Fables with animals as the main characters have always been used to shine a spotlight on our failings and teach us about human behaviour, both good and bad, and this story certainly does. I think it's a book that different readers will find different themes hidden in. For me, it spoke about slavery, immigration, man's destruction of habitat and the environment, and the way 'civilised' society is often heartless and cruel in ways that the 'natural' world isn't. Give it a try, and see what it says to you!

 Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - Peirene Press 
Genre - Adult Literary Fiction, translated fiction

1 comment:

  1. Though interesting to speculate on the various potential meanings, I agree it's best not to fret too much about the permutations and just enjoy the ride!

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