What makes humans different from other creatures? We draw a clear distinction, but maybe our actions show there’s less of a difference than we think in the way we try to raise children and animals. There is a lot of control and artificial boundaries in both cases, and as this story tells, that doesn’t look like it’s going to end well for anyone, raiser or raised.
The girl child in this book is an only child, and all she wants is a pet. Something small and furry to love and take care of. But her parents certainly won’t let her have it. Denied animal contact, she seems to withdraw from all human contact, too.
At Christmas, she decides, she will wait for Santa’s reindeer to arrive, and then leave with them to the wild, free North. But is the wild coming to town, instead? Her story in this book is interspersed with an equally strange one. Wolves are being reintroduced to the cities, and it’s all carefully planned. While this sounds like something out of science fiction or fantasy, the zookeepers’ and lab technicians’ accounts that follow sound all too depressingly real.
As she grows up, she realises that Santa isn’t real though, and his reindeer aren’t coming to take her away. Stories of other wild animals help her to find out who she could possibly be without going anywhere at all. It’s a coming out process that takes years, in fits and starts.
To Leave With the Reindeer by Olivia Rosenthal, translated from the French by Sophie Lewis, was published by And Other Stories two weeks ago. Get your copy here. Just after I finished it, I saw this woman emerging from a wolf at an exhibition of Kiki Smith’s work in the Sara Hildén Art Museum in Tampere. It would have made a good cover, for the book too, I think.