Colin Dayan meditates on the connection between her family history and her relationship with animals in this lyrical memoir about her upbringing in the South. Unraveling memories alongside family documents and photographs, Animal Quintet takes a raw look at racial tensions and relations in a region struggling to change. A disquieting picture of a childhood is accessed through accounts of the non-human, ranging from famed Southern war horses led by Civil War generals and doomed Spanish fighting bulls to the misunderstood possum hunted by generations of Southerners.
Animal Quintet is uniquely capable of transporting one’s imagination across time and place, mirroring the natural behavior of remembrances with its feelings of dislocation and non-linear movement. Regional folk songs about old gray mares and possums hiding in trees intermingle with stories and confidences shared by the household’s African-American nanny, enclosing the reader in a chorus composed of otherwise lost voices. Simultaneously longing for the past — while keeping it at arm’s length — Dayan achieves a haunting, nostalgic quality rare to memoirs focused on ancestral and personal identity.