The man I became by Peter Verhelst


The Man I became by Peter Verhelst

Belgian  fiction

Original title – Geschiedenis van een Berg

Translator – David Colmer

Source – review copy

It’s translation Thursday so I choose the latest book from one of my favourite publishers and the first in this years series. As you may or may not know every year Peirene collects their books around a theme, this years theme is Fairy tale. Peter Verhelst has written more than twenty books and has won a number of major prizes such as the Flemish state prize. This is his 11th novel . He is considered a post modernist writer, he also writes poetry and plays.

I don’t know exactly when – I still couldn’t think in terms of days and years, that’s how long ago it was – but the heat made us so drowsy that we nodded off and slept whole afternoon away in a heap, spread eagled on top of each other. We caught termites by pushing long twigs, as flexible as blade of grass, into their mounds and then licking the twigs clean.

Opening as the gorilla remembers where he was before he was captured

The man I became is the story of a gorilla told from his point of view, from being captured to arriving in europe where they start to turn the Ape to human to get him to fit in. The first way of trying to fit in first is at a cocktail party then he ends up at an over the top theme park. In this novel we meet the gorilla he learns to talk  and starts to think like a human even in the sense of times and starts on a path to become human in a way even thou he isn’t  but the more he sees of the human world the more he finds it against his own nature and then the theme park burns down.

Dreamland was a success. After every performance the applause was tumultuous. It attracted newspapers, magazines, camera crews. People came from all over the new world. The organizers decided to go from two shows a day to three. After a week the first accident happened. One of the Giraffes broke a leg. As a result the other giraffes had to work even more.

At the morning meeting the next day, the human ordered me to take over several off his duties. He would be concentrating on the supply of new animals and trainers. I worked day and night to ensure that both the training and organization of the shows ran smoothly. the giraffe with the broken leg was nowhere to be seen

I liked this as I imagined removing the animal names and adding refugees being overworked !

This is not the first book told by an ape , I loved will self’s great apes years ago and this is on a similar vein the use of the gorilla is a symbol for showing the flaws in human nature . This is a clever way at looking at human nature , why would we want an ape to be a human ? , then be in a show on civilization with a whole load of other animals trying to be human. I loved the way dreamland is put together its like a nightmare version of disneyland put together by Werner Herzog. He also shows the way we can all break replace an Ape with say a Syrian man or a child from sub Saharan Africa and at the core of this is an allegory to being an outsider in a different place we don’t always fit and sometimes we need to break out.A powerful modern take on a fairy tale it does what Orwell did in animal farm and communism with a theme park and refugees or people forced into europe .

Have you read a book narrated by animal ?

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sarah
    Mar 03, 2016 @ 10:46:12

    This sounds really interesting, and is the second Peirene publication review that has caught my eye this week. I can see them becoming a bit of a fixture on my wish list!


  2. kaggsysbookishramblings
    Mar 03, 2016 @ 11:28:11

    I keep hearing good things about this one – and as I’m keen to explore more Peirene books I’ll add it to the wishlist! 🙂


  3. Cathy746books
    Mar 03, 2016 @ 11:38:09

    I won this through Novella November and am really looking forward to it!


  4. Melissa Beck
    Mar 03, 2016 @ 13:49:17

    I read Cat out of Hell from Melville House and it was narrated by a house cat. I loved that one as well, very funny!


  5. vicky blake
    Mar 04, 2016 @ 17:18:19

    Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Low Life by Sam Savage is related by a rat who has learnt to read and lives in a second hand bookshop. I love it.


  6. Deepika Ramesh
    Mar 05, 2016 @ 09:38:29

    Thank you for writing about this book. I am surely going to read this, as I love books that feature animals, and books that are narrated by animals.

    I loved ‘The Art of Racing in the Rain’ by Garth Stein, ‘The Dalai Lama’s Cat’ by David Michie, ‘The One and Only Ivan’ by Katherine Applegate, and ‘War Horse’ by Michael Morpurgo. Animals are the narrators in those books.


  7. Tony
    Mar 07, 2016 @ 07:01:04

    One for me to fit in around the Man Booker choices – unless it gets picked, of course 😉


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March 2016


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