Review of Albert of Adelaide by Howard L. Anderson
title: Albert of Adelaide
author: Howard L. Anderson
genre: parable fiction
hardcover: 07/10/2012 — 9781455509621
Release date: TODAY!
Allow me to start this review by proclaiming that I deeply enjoyed reading this book, which was just released today. However, as far as I can tell, I seem to have enjoyed it for the wrong reasons. Most of the press surrounding Albert of Adelaide (including both publisher marketing and the comments of my book reviewing peers) has harped on the book as a fantastical, Western shoot-em-up, escapist animal story. And it most certainly is! For that reason, I heartily recommend it as a summer read! (Plus, the story takes place in the Australian Outback, so reading it will help you appreciate being able to jump in the pool/lake/ocean.) But it is so much more than just that. For me, what sets this book apart from the league of Redwall and Wind in the Willows is the powerfully human subtext, which launches it into the league of Animal Farm and Watership Down.
Yes, Albert the protagonist is a duck-billed platypus, and yes, the story picks up after he escapes a zoo in urban Australia to seek a new home in the Outback. If this gives you any suspicions that this story is fluffy, put a sock in it. Within the first few pages, our hero is close to death by heat, dehydration, and exposure, which he struggles with for the rest of the book. And don’t be fooled by the cast of characters, which includes a wombat, kangaroos, bandicoots, a Tasmanian devil, and dingoes. These animals (respectively) burn down buildings, shoot at Albert with muskets, cope with alcohol withdrawals, beat things senseless for money, and eat other characters. Like I said, not fluffy. Still, through all of this, the fun unpredictability of the survival/adventure story does not diminish, and the tone is never gloomy.
But most of that you could learn from the dust jacket. Beneath all the animal antics, Anderson weaves an undeniably familiar political undercurrent, which firmly establishes his novel as a modern parable (intentionally or unintentionally; I don’t want to put words in your mouth, Howard). After growing up in the midwest and serving in the military, the author now works as a defense lawyer for Mexican nationals charged with crimes north of the border; one way or another, Anderson’s impressive background lends the story significant thematic meat.
In the violent racism of the kangaroos and wallabies towards Albert and all other non-marsupials, we see the deep-rooted prejudices that still plague our own society. More specifically, Albert’s role as an almost universally distrusted stranger from another region clearly reminds us of the overwhelmingly maligned immigrants of the human world; these attitudes are as contemporary as it gets, and Anderson’s portrayal of them are at times disturbingly realistic. Lastly, the novel’s most persistent antagonist, Bertram the wallaby, accomplishes his villainy through an infuriating barrage of FoxNews-ish mass media assaults; I believe that one speaks for itself. Essentially, as far as I’m concerned, this novel achieves a great literary feat—it creatively and subtly articulates a message that directly speaks to the situation of human society, all the while (and most importantly) telling a great story. Who cares if the story is told through critters?
While reading, I was rarely impressed by the dialogue, which lacks much gravity and tends to state the obvious. However, Albert is a book that firmly asserts the belief that action speaks louder than words (and I’m not talking Vin Diesel action). And while I tend to get caught up in the pulpy thematics detailed above, the novel really is at its heart a wonderfully uplifting tale of friendship, survival, and healing, against the most aggravating of obstacles. Once Albert has waddled onto store shelves in paperback, I fully expect book groups around the country to gleefully tear it apart, especially book groups with an emphasis on civic engagement.
Does this review remind you of any books you’ve read recently? Tell us about books you’ve read where friends depend on each other for survival, where the protagonist feels like a fish out of water, or books where animals are used figuratively to reflect humans.