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.
“Colin Dayan brings a rare combination to her work: a strong mind and an expansive heart.”
—Mark Edmundson, University of Virginia. Author of Why Read? and The Death of Sigmund Freud.
“Colin Dayan’s Animal Quintet explores the complexity of race, class, gender and region with relation to animality and history. What is it that we remember of pasts that have receded? What prompts such remembrance? How is the past always made present? Perhaps through feeling, through mood, through song. Focusing on animals and the relations they share with humans, the distinctions between are interrogated and considered and wrestled with and thought about.”
—Ashon T. Crawley, Associate Professor of Religious Studies and African American Studies, University of Virginia
“Colin Dayan’s lyrical prose is haunting, it oozes through the hot, humid, and putrid air of the deep South calling her back as if to ask her to finish her thought after all these years. This memoir feels like a lucid dream dipped in magic realism. The languid posture of the mother melts into the bull’s body distorted with pain, meanwhile the crickets are noisily rubbing their legs in anticipation of sex. A mesmerizing tableau.”
—Benedicte Boisseron, Professor of Afroamerican and African Studies, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
“Colin Dayan’s stories of mournful intimacy with animals bring the entanglement of our flesh and bodies to light, a light that seeps through her sweaty, lyrical, Southern memories. Hauntingly beautiful, these musings warn us of our profound precarity.”
—Lori Gruen, author of Entangled Empathy
Growing up in an atmosphere of violent sociality and unnamed desires, Dayan gravitates toward nonhuman beings—horses, chickens, possums, dogs–watching their every movement, their acts of survival, and their eventual death, often at the hands of humans. Dayan writes, “The horses keep dying. The humans keep watching.”
In exquisite prose that recounts her mother’s passions and demise, the gatherings of humans around husbandry and slaughter, and the dense psychic weight of racial caste systems and anti-black violence, Dayan brings to the fore an enmeshment that tethers her grief and memories to animals that inhabit the south. She writes of how memory flows through the blood and circulates in interspecies relations. I am left with her words: “there is no story about humans that is not also a story about animals.”
—Nicole R. Fleetwood, Professor of American Studies and Art History, Rutgers University