Friday, June 5, 2009

Book Review: Hannah's Dream

Title Hannah's Dream
Author Diane Hammond
Genre Literary Fiction
Rating A+

Summary Hannah is a 40-some-odd-year-old elephant living in less than stellar conditions at the Maxine (Max) L. Biedelman Zoo in Washington. But Hannah's got something good going for her--her keeper, Samson (Sam) Brown, has been with her as long as she's been at Max's and he loves her like the baby girl that his wife lost in childbirth almost 40 years ago. Sam is surrounded by a colorful cast of characters that work against tough odds to make Hannah's dream come true.

First Line "Samson Brown loved exactly two things in this world: his wife and his elephant."

Review Most people wouldn't necessarily flip their lid over this book. It's one of those stereotypical literary fiction books where "nothing happens," but I fell in love with it... eventually.

The beginning was moderately slow-going for me (up to about the first 20 pages, which was for me the first two days of reading). Usually I'm a fast reader, but this was a book club selection and I try to pace myself so that the book's still fresh in my mind at the discussion meeting, so I try to take the whole month reading the book (which was ~10 pages per day on Hannah's Dream). So there I am, at the end of two days, thinking, "This is going to be one long month of reading."

And then day three...

And there was no day four because I couldn't stop. The book picked up as soon as the merry band of mis-matched characters came onto the scene. The zoo is inhabited with an eccentric mix of characters that enchanted me and are likely to stay with me for a long time. The characters who were supposed to be "bad," were flawed, for sure, but Hammond gives you their back story and they're not simply bad, they're broken down by their hard lives of struggle. I cried at times reading this book because it was heart-breaking; especially as I saw interplay between Hannah's poor living conditions and the poor conditions that many humans have to live through, and it brought up some interesting questions for me. For example: how much does prior history direct present actions and how do my judgements of others account for the other person's perspective?

The other fantastic thing about the characters is that none of them run together. There are eight characters who have regular interplay with Hannah, but they all stick out in my mind--none were "throw away" characters. Hammond was superb in giving them idiosyncrasies, not simply to be zany, but to individualize them and to enhance the story. Even one character's ex-wife who's never even really "in" the story was a richly-drawn character. Well done on that.

The other thing that I appreciated is that Hammond didn't get too preachy on animal rights. The well-educated animal trainer says at one point that she believes in what many zoos do in regards to education and research, and she doesn't personify animals, but can still recognize that they're senescent beings. That was a good balance, in my opinion, because I'd been concerned that this was going to be some zealot's cry against animal captivity or something.

I'd recommend this book to people who love character-rich novels, can handle a little bit of slow pacing, and can appreciate a good cry. (Because you will cry at the end.)


Missy said...

Thanks for the review! This book is on my wishlist...I am so glad to hear that its a good one.

Anonymous said...

that one looks fantastic

Sandra said...

I loved this story. I don't mind slow actionat all, such interesting characters in it. I saw the documentary about the keeper having to take Hannah to the retirement place in Tennessee and separate from her. I know the book is losely based on the facts but I wanted to read it after I saw that documantary. I recommend it to anyone. Thanks for reviewing it.