"The Council of Animals" | Reviewed by Pat Sainz
If I were still teaching high school literature, I would have my students read “The Council of the Animals,” by Nick McDonell. It’s a story told with great reflection and philosophical observations in regard to man’s purpose, his treatment of nature and his relationship with living creatures. The book can be read in just a few sittings, and it is packed with paragraphs that provide intriguing conversation starters. It is not preachy nor is it a propaganda piece of any kind. This is a highly entertaining book that presents serious subject matter in a very understandable manner.
The narrators are animals that have survived “The Calamity” caused by humans. (Although not stated, it appears to be a nuclear disaster.) All animals are bilingual; they understand everything the humans say. They always have. The animals speak “grak” a common language.
The animals aren’t sure whether humans are “stupid” or “psychologically incapable” of understanding grak. Mystics, artists and environmentalists, people often persecuted for their beliefs can speak grak but have been prevented from doing so by more powerful humans, according to the animals.
A blustering baboon, a loyal military dog, a Hollywood movie bear, a house cat, a racehorse, and a spiritual crow convene near a fallen helicopter and a stranded yacht to decide the fate of the few humans they have encountered in a gathering nearby. As ambassadors for their kind, they will decide whether to kill the remaining humans or let them live. The decision will be communicated to the rest of their fellow animals that have survived the calamity. This includes millions of flies, mice, moles, and roaches (who actually could do the work alone.)
The conversation between the animals is illuminating. The crow makes his decision in proclamations using language similar to the Declaration of Independence. He calls upon the Bird Gods for mercy. The mice refer to “belling the cat,” the baboon refers to the climate destruction, and the reptile believes he is a bat trapped in a lizard’s body. They all deplore the extinction of any animal, something has occurred over the centuries. Whether or not they will participate in the destruction of humans is part of their problem.
The animals encounter two humans living nearby. One human can speak grak; one is ready to kill them all and put them in a stew. One is ready to make promises in a typical political speech. The ending is fitting and surprising.
About the Author:
Nick McDonell is a rather young author (age 37) whose novel “Twelve” has been on the “New York Times” bestsellers’ list. He also is a writer of nonfiction. McDonnell has been a journalist and a producer. I believe his newest book belongs on bestseller lists this year.