Tag Archives: animal experimentation

The Immortalists: Chloe Benjamin

“And if there’s magic in the world, there’s magic beyond it.”

Chloe Benjamin’s novel, The Immortalists begins in 1969 with the four Gold children Varya, 13, Daniel, 11, Klara, 9, Simon, 7 who head out, pressured by Daniel to have their fortunes told by a travelling psychic. Daniel has heard that the fortune-teller can predict death dates.

The practical minded Varya asks “What is it’s bad news? What if she says you’ll die before you’re even a grown-up?”

“Then it would better to know, ” said Daniel. “So you could get everything done before.”

But would the knowledge of the date of your death ‘help’ or hinder you? You won’t know if the date is correct or not until it arrives. I was intrigued by the premise of the novel as many years ago I had a friend who had a similar experience. He refused to tell me the date he was given, but it haunted him. After seeing how traumatized he was by this experience, I would rather not know. Of course, we all come with a hidden expiration date, and the novel asks whether or not knowing (or thinking you know) the day of your death makes a difference as to how you choose to live your life. What if the date is wrong? How does this knowledge, true or false, impact behaviour?

In a tatty apartment building, the children are each, separately, told the day of their deaths. Although they keep the information initially secret, it impacts their behavior in the years to come.

the immortalists

Simon Gold as a teenager who is facing joining the family’s “Tailor and Dressmaking”  business, instead opts to run off to the heady freedom of San Francisco in the late 70s-early 80s. There, underage Simon finds work as a dancer in a gay bar, and he meets an older man. Meanwhile his sister Klara who runs off to San Francisco with Simon gets a job as temp. while dreaming of becoming an illusionist. Klara turns to magic in a dangerous and obsessive attempt to cross the barriers between the living  and the dead.

The second brother Daniel, quiet, steady and serious becomes an army doctor post 9-11 and Varya becomes a scientist whose area of expertise/interest is longevity research. (This involves Rhesus monkeys, so reader beware). In her longevity research, quantity becomes more important than quality.

The Immortalists, beginning with Simon, follows the siblings on their life paths. Each sibling keeps the death date in his/her head, always conscious of it, even if they disbelieve it. Simon, who is told that he will die young, certainly takes this information and runs with it. Hurls himself towards it might even be a better description.

What if the woman on Hester Street is right, and the next few years are his last? The mere thought turns his life a different color; it makes everything feel urgent, glittering, precious.

I liked the novel’s premise and the mystical elements, and I loved Klara and Varya’s stories, possibly because they tried to understand life in alternate ways. Daniel’s section stretched credulity, and readers should be aware that in Simon’s story, there’s a considerable amount of sex. This is described rather clinically, not salaciously, but still, anyone intending to read this should know what they are in for. IMO, it added nothing to the book. That’s not meant in a puritanical way, but these scenes did nothing for me whatsoever, and seemed, frankly, rather gratuitous.

The Immortalists asks how much we really control our lives. Would the Gold children have acted differently if they’d never met the fortune-teller? If you were told you were going to die young, would you dive right into life and to hell with the consequences or would you try to avoid disaster? Character is fate, right? Can you escape fate? We see each of the Gold children tackle those questions differently.

If you like The Immortalists, you will probably also like Daniel Kehlmann’s F  (or vice versa)

Review copy

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Against All Odds: Animal Liberation 1972-1986 by J.J. Roberts

“If vivisection was against the interests of the ruling class they would abolish it very quickly, either by the use of their legislative powers, or more quickly by decisions made at Board meetings. Commercial forms of animal abuse such as vivisection and factory framing are in the financial interests of the ruling class, and bloodsports are an essential part of their social fabric. The parliamentary campaign is in fact asking us to petition the ruling class to act against their own best interest.”

At around 118 pages, Against All Odds: Animal Liberation 1972-1986 by J.J. Roberts traces the Animal Liberation movement during its crucial formative years. Focusing on Britain, the book (which takes the form of a thick booklet) is an overview of the landmark events that took place during this period. Additionally, the book examines tactics that worked, tactics that failed and argues that by 1984, the animal liberation movement “enjoyed widespread public support.” And of course, with this statement, we have to ask where did all that public support go? Was it lost or hijacked and can it be reclaimed?

The author argues that vivisection has always created “people who have taken direct action against it,” but that in 1972, some of those in the Hunt Saboteurs Association “decided to embark on a campaign of direct action against vehicles and other property used by the hunt.” This led to the formation of The Band of Mercy–a group that led raids on fox hunting kennels. But by 1973, the Band of Mercy expanded their activities to include other forms of animal abuse. The arrest and imprisonment of activists caused the Band of Mercy to cease, but by 1976 “ALF was born with the remnants of the Band of Mercy.” The author states that these early ALF years did not at first involve economic sabotage or arson.

The 80s saw the formation and growth of a number of regional Animal Liberation Leagues (NALL, SEALL). Tracing the formation, activities and eventual destruction of the various regional Animal Liberation Leagues, the book covers a fascinating history of direct action. What’s so fascinating here is the realization that NALL (Northern Animal Liberation League) policy was to “involve as many people as possible in campaigns to expose the animal abuse to the public.” And this, the author argues allowed NALL to “portray themselves as public guardians.” Describing NALL tactics, the book points out that “the raid itself was a means to an end, not an end in itself.” With minimum damage to gain entry, NALL raided numerous laboratories to gather evidence of animal abuse. It’s incredible in today’s political climate to imagine the sort of 400 person strong, nationally coordinated raid that NALL conducted. However, the author argues that failure to “maintain an active core of experienced members” led the NALL to strategic failures and their eventual demise. And one of NALL’s biggest mistakes was to fail to organize a defence campaign for those arrested and facing lengthy political trials.

While NALL had some great successes (evidenced by the widespread approval of NALL amongst the British public and the sheer numbers of those participating in the raids), the book argues that by 1983, the NALL’s policy to seize and expose evidence was “already dated theory.” In one SEALL (South East Animal Liberation League) raid for example, “none of the research papers ever surfaced to be used against” the laboratories in question–thus making the tactics of raid, seize and expose meaningless. In fact, it seems that the police adapted over the years to ‘deal’ with the raids, and this brought down arrests and lengthy conspiracy trials against raid participants. In some cases, those just protesting outside of the laboratories were summarily rounded up and arrested and lumped together in these conspiracy trials along with those who were found in the labs. As a result, massive arrests led to the SEALL’s “decision to move away from the chaos of mass action.”

For anyone interested in the subjects of Animal Liberation, this modest appearing booklet makes for a fascinating read. Charting the major actions against some of the most notorious labs, the ugly prolonged trials of activists (including the Trial of the Wickham 19), we see exactly how Animal Liberation morphed into new configurations–shaped by necessity, the legal system and the political climate. In 1984, the year in which the “Animal Liberation movement enjoyed widespread public support” activists “staged mass raids” at six animal research labs. As a result, more than 80 people were charged, and by 1986, 24 people–sentenced to a cumulative 41 years went to prison for their roles in an Eastern Animal Liberation League “anti-vivisection raid on the Unilever’s …research laboratory at Bedford.” The disastrous Unilever raid and its repercussions “may be viewed as a turning point where the animal liberation movement temporarily abandoned the attempt to build a mass movement and turned towards the militancy of the few.”

Also covered are the subjects of militancy, the impotency of parliamentary action, and decentralized structure vs. centralized organization. The author discusses some of the tactics used by various groups: including property destruction and Contamination. While the author notes that Contamination as a tactic can be vastly successful in terms of economic sabotage, the cost when considering antagonizing public opinion is far too high. Indeed the booklet cites the example of Sinn Fein’s use of violence and argues that although Sinn Fein warned police of planted incendiary devices, these warnings were not always passed on to the public. Hence, according to the author, for anyone even considering the use of violent or potentially life-threatening tactics (arson, explosive devices, contamination, etc), it’s simply not intelligent to put the police in the equation if you are counting on warning away the public because you may very well create a highly damaging PR event in which certain things are expendable.

Possibly the single most astonishing fact here is that Animal Liberation groups gathered conclusive evidence that pet/companion dogs and cats were stolen and fed into laboratories for experiments. Makes you wonder about all those dogs and cats that supposedly vanish from the planet every year, doesn’t it? Especially since vivisection labs are not exactly open to public scrutiny….

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