bookslut in training
Fabulous and Monstrous Beasts
Cool Reads: Sy Montgomery has written a lot of wonderful nature books for both children and adults. She has lately become a mainstay of the Scientist in the Field series from Houghton Mifflin Children’s and her animal loving memoir, The Good Good Pig, was a bestseller in 2007. Recently Chelsea Green has reissued some of her earlier nature titles and after reading Journey of the Pink Dolphins: An Amazon Quest and Spell of the Tiger: The Man-eaters of Sundarbans, I am now a committed Montgomery fan. What makes her standout for me is that Montgomery writes not only about the science of the animals she is investigating but also the mythology and folklore surrounding them, the people who live near them and those who study and manage them. She takes a broad view of nature, seeing the creature and its entire environment. I love the Boston Globe quote about her, that she is “part Indiana Jones and part Emily Dickinson.” If you wonder, like I did, how that is possible then you simply must read these two books.
Teens in particular should embrace Dolphins and Tiger as they carry a heavy dose of adventure from the very beginning. Just getting to the Amazon in order to study the pink dolphins is an exercise in endurance and as for the Sundarbans, the swamp and delta that lies between India and Bangladesh where the only actual man-eating tigers in the world live (and hunt), well it’s right out of a 19th century journal of intrepid woman explorers. The two books excel in stories of wildlife encounters both expected and not (rats and bugs are especially prevalent in the Amazon) but it is the many ways in which Montgomery reaches far beyond the traditional confines of nature reporting that will impress her readers. There is a wealth of fascinating information in both of these books that extends into the realm of how people live with these particular animals and further, how they live with the wild in general. Sy Montgomery is clearly someone with an innate sense of curiosity. Combined with an extraordinarily elegant writing skill (echoes of Barry Lopez) she is a nature writer who must not be missed. Mandatory reading for teens looking for their own summer adventures and especially those worried all the great discoveries have been made. Sy Montgomery is a pied piper for those bored with the same old thing; read her and find the world.
Posted by Tiffany at 11:04 am in Book Reviews.
This weekend I pretty much stayed on the couch or in bed. Some new bedroom pillows that are way to fluffy have negatively impacted my back. But having some time to read is never a bad thing in my book and I quickly devoured a book called Spell of the Tiger - The Man-Eaters of Sundarbans by Sy Montgomery.
I have never read anything of hers before but I was intrigued when I heard that she has been called “part Indiana Jones and part Emily Dickinson”. She sounds like a woman after my own heart as all I wanted to do in my younger years was pursue anthropology and archaeology. One of my guy friends used to call me Tiffiana Jones. Marriage and motherhood have a way of changing your life course though. When all the kids are in school though (if we aren’t homeschooling of course) I totally intend to go back to college and pursue that anthropology degree.
Sy Montgomery is a world traveler and author of nature books. She wrote a bestseller called The Good Good Pig. I have never read it but I have heard many good things. After reading Spell of the Tiger though I am convinced she could write about the stomach flu and make it sound so magical and captivating that everyone would want it. Oh yes, she is good.
This particular book is all about the Sundarban tigers. They live in the Sundarbans, a mangrove forest that lies between India and Bangladesh. The tigers that live there are unique among all other tigers because they are man eaters. Unofficially the forest officials there say that around 3000 people each year become a meal to these animals. Sy Montgomery wanted to know why these tigers target men when historically no other tigers do. She also wanted to hear the village stories about these tigers and find out why the people there revere these animals and protect them despite their appetite for humans.
The premise of the book did not sound fabulous to me I will be honest, but I was spellbound by the first chapter. I was enchanted by Montgomery’s writing style and simultaneously chilled to the bone by the tiger attack stories she shared. It really is amazing that with 3000 deaths a year, MOST people there never see the tiger coming for them (or their companions) until after it is too late. 500 pounds of raw strength wrapped in a flame orange striped suit can hide in the forest, the tall grasses, and the water, even leaping onto boats and no one even knew it was there.
Montgomery herself had two close calls while she was there. At one point the boat she was on got stuck in the mud and the captain was visibly alarmed. Even though they couldn’t see anything, they heard no sounds of birds, insects, or any other animals so they knew it was there…watching.
Another time they floated down a small river channel and turned around when it came to an end. They saw tiger prints that had not been there on one of the banks a short distance away but no opposing tracks on the other bank showing that the tiger may have just crossed the river. They retraced their path and found the tiger’s starting point…where they had launched their boat. This means it had been following them in the water.
You may be wondering why the government or the people do not simply exterminate these tigers to make the forest safe. They in fact do the exact opposite. The government gives out limited permits for forestry and honey collection and they often provide armed guards for those that have permits. The families of people who die in the forest that did not have proper permits hide the deaths…or think they do. The people and the government accept the danger of the Sundarban tigers because the tigers protect the forest. It is the largest single block of tidal halophytic mangrove forest in the world and this is due in large part to the tigers. The people cannot fault the tigers for doing what they have failed to do…protect the forest.
The book really gives a peek inside the lives of the villagers that live alongside these tigers and the information on their Hindu beliefs was VERY interesting. It weaves a story that shares with us a bit of the “tiger magic” that the people of the Sundarbans region know so well.
Next I am going to read her book, Journey of the Pink Dolphins. I admit that I know very little about many of the species that are endangered and in need of our protection and why exactly it would be so horrific to lose them. Sy Montgomery’s books are very helpful in this regard.