Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Book Review: Etre the Cow
This is not some cute little "cow that talks" book. It is not a "feel good" book. It is not for anyone that prefers to stick their head in the sand and ignore the big questions of life. It is disturbing to read. And that's what makes it powerful. This book will stick with you- whether you want it to or not. But in my opinion, every once in awhile you need to go to a bit of a dark place to see how good the light feels and to think about how you feel about the contrast.
Etre is french for the word "to be" or "to exist". (Etre is supposed to have an accent over the first "e" but I can't make my computer do that. Maybe some day I'll figure out how to make those green characters on my keyboard "come to life". When I do, I'll have entered the 21st Century, but for now, just imagine there to an accent there. )
Etre is a bull living on a big cattle/meat production farm. He is fenced in, forced to follow a lifestyle and set of rules that don't make any sense. He questions his existence and those around him. He is very much alone in his quest for meaning. The cows don't speak to him, no one "gets him", and for most of his life he feels quite alone and insignificant. He is powerless to bring meaning or change to his situation.
Etre the Cow has been compared to George Orwell's "Animal Farm". Like Orwell's classic, Kenniff writes this book as a statement on society, an allegory to critique modern society- in particular, the socio-econmic situation during the 2008/2009 recession in the United States. Some people have interpreted this book as an animal rights book and a statement against production farming. There are some brutal and explicit descriptions in the book that might make you think about your food, but Kenniff doesn't claim to be writing for that purpose as much as to make you consider your own life and the fences that restrict you. Kenniff writes this from the heart- deep in his heart- the place where great works are created because they aren't sugar coated and glossed over.
This book is well written. I "became" Etre and believe me, that wasn't a comfortable place to be by times! A part of me so much wanted things to change, and a piece of me accepted what was happening as "just is". I found a bit of relief in the very end through something (I won't tell you want- you'll have to read it yourself) that wouldn't normally give me relief, that's how much I could identify with the character through Kennif's writing.
Like Orwell's Animal Farm, I think Etre the Cow may become classic literary work. I think my first year University English Professor could have used this book for an entire semester to tease out the symbolism and study the meanings, both hidden and obvious. I'm not the only one that thinks this. The book is endorsed by both Dr. Jane Goodall and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. That is some pretty powerful backing and an interesting combination.
The book is a novella that can easily be read in one session. For me at least, I had to read it that way. Once I started there was no way I was putting it down- but then I'm a "pull the band aid off quickly" person, never a "peel it slowly". I needed to know how it ended and didn't want to put it down halfway through and let my mind wonder over what might be going to happen next.
Throughout the whole book I so badly wanted to give Etre a big dose of Perelandra ETS for Animals. I think it could have eased the journey a lot. I wanted to give "My Cow" a bottle of Bach Flower essence Centuary to wake her up a bit and prevent her from being so easily led. At certain times, I wanted to infuse Etre with the Bach Flower Holly because it was all about an inability to find universal love in a way. Other times, I recognized the need for Cerato for poor Etre because he was on the right path it was just hard to find that trust in self. Of course he could have used some Pine during that particularly disturbing scene in the production shed. And let's face it, the farmers could have used the whole box of Bach at one time or another- Rescue Remedy and ETS Plus definitely come to mind towards the end!
I don't recommend this book for everyone. I think you need to really "feel" whether or not it's right for you, and whether you are in a "place" that allows you to tackle this. I am glad I read it. It was right for me. If you are going to read it, you might want to brew a strong pot of chamomile tea to sip while you read. Do NOT read this while munching on a hamburger, steak, or any other meat product. Personally, I skipped the tea and went right to red wine and that was a perfect mix.
I followed this book up with a couple of favorites before going to sleep. I re-read "The Story of Ferdinand" by Munro Leaf, and followed that up with "Click Clack Moo Cows That Type", by Doreen Cronin. Then I read Ferdinand once again. It is all about the balance!