REVIEW: The Last Animal by Ramona Ausubel
Teenage sisters Eve and Vera never imagined their summer vacation would be spent in the Arctic, tagging along on their mother’s scientific expedition. But there’s a lot about their lives lately that hasn’t been going as planned, and truth be told, their single mother might not be so happy either.
Now in Siberia with a bunch of serious biologists, Eve and Vera are just bored enough to cause trouble. Fooling around in the permafrost, they accidentally discover a perfectly preserved, four-thousand-year-old baby mammoth, and things finally start to get interesting. The discovery sets off a surprising chain of events, leading mother and daughters to go rogue, pinging from the slopes of Siberia to the shores of Iceland to an exotic animal farm in Italy, and resulting in the birth of a creature that could change the world—or at least this family.
The Last Animal takes readers on a wild, entertaining, and refreshingly different kind of journey, one that explores the possibilities and perils of the human imagination on a changing planet, what it’s like to be a woman in a field dominated by men, and how a wondrous discovery can best be enjoyed with family. Even teenagers.
Dear Ms. Ausubel,
I came for the mammoth baby but I mainly got a story of how science is still misogynistic and of a mother and her two daughters figuring out life, themselves, and their relationships. Widowed Jane – the mother – is still a grad student due to raising a family and being the business motor behind her husband’s career. On a summer research trip to Siberia, her teen daughters Eve and Vera see first hand how mom is viewed by the men as a bottle washer and note taker. But it’s the daughters who discover the baby mammoth in the permafrost.
Back home, at a party to celebrate the summer but still not mention Jane or her daughters’ contributions, a fortuitous meeting with a wealthy woman whose husband owns an estate in Italy where a variety of animals live – including a female elephant – kickstarts a wild experiment that isn’t supposed to work. But what if it does? What happens then?
I was psyched during the first quarter of the book thinking I was getting a modern “Lessons In Chemistry” novel. A book in which a put-upon and dismissed middle aged woman and her daughters rose up and challenged the patriarchy. Then the real business of the book got started which is women’s fiction and these females – mother and daughters – having their all too real moments of anger – at their husband/father for dying, desire for normalcy after being yanked all over the planet in the name of science, anger at climate change and the feeling that the Earth is doomed no matter what little daily acts of ecology they do, and desire for love as Eve falls for a handsome Icelander while mom is doing another summer project. Okay but where is the mammoth?
Then – because the blurb gives it away anyway – the experiment that wasn’t supposed to work does. Now what? The last half of the book is an example of “scientists … so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Ian Malcolm, I love you. They’ve done something but for all it’s magical, things aren’t going the way everyone imagined. And what if there are other agendas afloat?
I enjoyed the relationship between mother and daughters. Heck yeah I enjoyed the baby mammoth — oops not supposed to use that term. It’s a “cold-adapted elephant.” Then when things skid sideways the book ends on a good note – for some – but … WHAT ABOUT PEARL?? G-d dammit
Don’t you see the danger, John, inherent in what you’re doing here? Genetic power is the most awesome force the planet’s ever seen, but you wield it like a kid that’s found his dad’s gun.