Skip to main content

Book 29 of 52: The Wisdom of Donkeys by Andy Merrifield

A friend of mine is going through a rough time right now, and I'd like to bring him a donkey.

Go ahead, laugh. I would have laughed, too. But then I read Andy Merrifield's The Wisdom of Donkeys: Finding Tranquility in a Chaotic World. So if I could, I would bring him a donkey.

Donkeys, believe it or not, are very docile creatures. Yes, they have that loudbray (because they vocalize when they breathe in AND out), and they can deliver one powerful kick. But they are revered in many cultures (Jesus came rode into Jerusalem on a donkey on Palm Sunday, remember), and kept as pets in many parts of the world.

Merrifield borrows Gribouille, a friend's donkey, for a long walking journey through the Haute-Auvergne region of southern France. The donkey carries the packs, and serves as Merrifield's friend and confidante. Portions of The Wisdom of Donkeysare addressed directly to Gribouille -- I can imagine Merrifield stopping to write those passages in his notebook with Gribouille by his side.

So why would I want to bring a donkey to my friend? Because, in some portions of the world, they're used like therapy dogs are used here. They're brought to the sick, the infirm, and the old, and these little creatures can pull those people out of their sickness and their shells. I read most of The Wisdom of Donkeyswith my dog, Emily, sitting on my lap, so I know the calm animals can bring. But donkeys don't pester you like terriers do, and I would have given anything at that moment to reach out and stroke a tuft of Gribouille’s fur.

Merrifield's journey with Gribouille is his therapy. He grew up in Liverpool and, after a childhood trip to New York City, decided he wanted to live there (in the Empire State Building, no less). But his dream, like many dreams, deflated when confronted with reality. His New York life had little to do with the one he imagined, so he packed it in and moved to the French countryside.

It would be easy to call The Wisdom of Donkeysa memoir about finding yourself, something along the lines of Eat, Pray, Love (boy, wouldn't his publisher be happy about that?). But Merrifield's recounting of how he got from Manhattan to donkeys is different. It's more introspective. More contemplative. More poetic, so much so that at times I thought he was slipping into passages of poetry without the line breaks.

The Wisdom of Donkeysis not for everybody. It's a slow book, much like walking with a donkey is a slow journey. It doesn't have a focused plot. Merrifield writes flashes of his story around blocks of philosophy, about the mechanics of how donkeys survive, about donkeys in history and literature, and about how donkeys got their reputation (Bottom in Midsummer Night's Dream did that one for me).

I don't normally like books like this, but I'm sad to see it end. I liked slowing down. Reading this book was like my few days in Cape May -- I'm so on the go that I liked being forced to stop, slow down, and enjoy, to take a long soak in a tub, to walk along the beach with a friend and his dogs, to linger over everything and anything. I don't do that here. The simples things are lost on me, gobbled up in the rush to do everything at once. So sitting down with The Wisdom of Donkeysgave me permission to stop and take a breath, to enjoy wandering through Merrifield and Gribouille’s eyes. It was a joy, and I'm sad that the book is over, especially since I read the final pages while my neighbor's voice, which pierces plaster walls, squeaked throughout my room -- thank God she rents and will be moving out at some point. Still, even with her shrieking, I still managed to savor the final pages while watching the sun set over the trees a few blocks away. That time, when my bedroom is lighted by sunset, is my favorite time to day. I don't enjoy it nearly enough. Maybe now I will.

So would my friend benefit from a visit from a donkey? Probably. Where I would get one in Southern New Jersey that did not live on the other side of a zoo fence, I don't know. But it's lovely idea, as is The Wisdom of Donkeys.

On a side note -- I've been taking Andrea Collier King's essay class, and she made a good point about reading your essay-in-progress and writing a one sentence summarizing what the essay is about. Then take out anything that doesn't support that sentence. It's a simple but powerful concept. Merrifield did this in The Wisdom of Donkeys. Even though the narrative shoots many different directions, everything he wrote about had to do with his journey with Gribouille. He didn't even say he was married until the end of the book. I think anything that had to do with romance, wife, marriage, etc. would have pulled away from the narrative. Smart move. Great book.

Comments

myloveletters said…
This is lovely Jen! I am reading this book slow, one chapter per day in a bookshop that also has a little coffee shop in a corner. I am loving Merrifield's journey and his stories. I love the pace of this book and the pleasure in doing things in my mind, things that I never thought of before, like cleaning a donkey's hooves and ridding it off the gravel stuck in the gaps.

Thank you for picking this book up and writing about it. Such a pleasure to know someone who's read it, could find none here where I live (South India).

Warmly,
Mubin Sultan.

Popular posts from this blog

Book 23 of 52: Because of Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn

More romance? Of course! The world is on fire, and I can't ingest all the fires all the time. Sometimes I want to turn to genre fiction as an escape, even if an escape is into a patriarchal society where it's SCANDAL that a woman sometimes, when riding a horse, wears pants. Because of Miss Bridgerton is the first book in Julia Quinn's Rokesbys Series , which are prequels to her enormously popular  Bridgerton Series  (and now a  Netflix show ). These books are similar, of course, but instead being set in the Recency era of the 1810s, these books take place at the same time as the American Revolution (though still in England).  Here we meet Sybilla "Bille" Bridergton, who is stuck on the roof of a building because she chased a cat up there. She climbed up herself (scandalous woman!) but also twisted her ankle in the process, which is why she needs help to get down.  That help comes from George Rokesby. Their families are neighbors, and they've known each other

Book 26 of 52: The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor — the Truth and the Turmoil by Tina Brown

I'm not going to write a long review of Tina Brown's The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor — the Truth and the Turmoil  for two reasons. First, it's been hashed to death already, as anything about the royals is, by people who are far more invested in this whole thing than I am. And second, I'm in the frantic "do I really need a jean jacket AND a windbreaker" level of packing before a long trip. I can say that I didn't mind listening to this nearly 18 hour audiobook while the rest of the world is on fire, although of course they are not insulated. We can pretend that the Royal Family lives in a bubble, but they are enormously influential; touched by the same issues of race, class and gender; and Queen Elizabeth II is one of most influential politicians of modern times — and she is a politician, no matter what anyone says. Her death will be a global, cultural moment. Same thing with the Pope, on both fronts. I listened to Brown's  The Diana Chro

Book 12 of 52: Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

Marjane Satrapi is an author and graphic novelist who grew up in Iran and, as a tween and teen, lived in the country through  the Iranian Revolution before her parents sent her to Europe for school, and for her safety.  As an adult, she wrote Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood ,  a nonfiction graphic novel, originally in French. I read the English translation, which was published in 2003, three years after the original. It was a critical success, won a slew of awards, and became a movie . I haven't read the sequel, Persepolis 2 , but I hope to (you can also  buy them in a set . I found Persepolis  in a Little Free Library, or I'd have bought them combined).  In the tradition of Art Spiegelman's  Maus , which is about the author's father talking to him about the Holocaust,  Persepolis  is a memoir of trauma told through a mix of images and words that when combined, combust into powerful, beautiful and soul cracking art.  For example, Satrapi portrays the 1978 Cinema R