Thursday, May 23, 2013

Non-fiction Review: A Lion Called Christian

In 2008 an extraordinary two-minute film clip appeared on YouTube and immediately became an international phenomenon. It captures the moving reunion of two young men and their pet lion Christian, after they had left him in Africa with Born Free’s George Adamson to introduce him into his rightful home in the wild.

A Lion Called Christian tells the remarkable story of how Anthony “Ace” Bourke and John Rendall, visitors to London from Australia in 1969, bought the boisterous lion cub in the pet department of Harrods

A Lion Called Christian

Bourke, A & Rendall, J. (2009 revised edition, originally published 1971).

[Genre: Memoir]

A Lion Called Christian was one of my alternates for the 2013 TBR Challenge. It wasn't actually at the top of my to-read pile, but I was in the library looking for a new audiobook for my work commute and stumbled upon an unabridged recording. So to the top of the pile it went, albeit not in the format I was expecting!

I think most people who have been using the internet for the past ten years would have seen the clip at some point, either on YouTube or circulated in a feel-good email, of Ace Bourke and John Rendall reuniting with their former pet, the lion Christian. It's a rare sight to see a powerful male lion jumping over two humans like he's an overgrown puppy. This book, originally published in 1971 and revised when the clip became an internet sensation in the late 2000's, tells the story behind the video, of two young Australian men living in London who impulsively buy a lion cub from Harrods, their life with him and his eventual rehabilitation into the wild in Africa.

On the one hand, A Lion Called Christian is an amazing story. As Bourke and Rendall are quick to point out, Christian's life could have ended up very differently and it is a unique set of circumstances that underlies the tale. Both authors obviously had a great affection and love for Christian, born out of an impulsive decision maybe, but ending with a fierce determination to do the best for him they could. Their account of Christian's life in a London furniture shop is cuteness in the extreme and the frustrations, followed by triumph, of his later rehabilitation in Africa (all the more amazing considering he was not a first generation import, his parents being zoo lions) is told with an honest voice. This is true especially in regards to George Adamson, who rehabilitated Christian. It is with real sadness the two authors report Adamsons murder, in 1989.

On the other hand, there is something just a little lacking about this one. It's extremely repetitive, to the extent almost identical sentences are side by side, something a good edit (if not in the original, certainly in the revised) should have fixed. It sometimes feels like it brushes over the surface only, not giving the full picture, especially in terms of Christians life in a small London shop - but this may be excusable given that 40 years has passed since that time and the authors readily admit their memories are fuzzy on some details. Finally, although Bourke and Rendall obviously both adored Christian and still think of him often, after 40 years they seem very different people to the quirky young Australian men who raised the lion cub. They have both moved on with their lives significantly and one gets the impression that they almost feel obliged to go back to the story, rather than willing.


Overall? 3 stars. One for the real animal lovers only.


1 comment:

  1. […] A Lion Called Christian, Anthony Bourke.  Finished 21/05/13, Reviewed here […]