Available 12/8/2020

Animal Quintet: A Southern Memoir

by Colin Dayan


In this haunting, lyrical, luminous book, Colin Dayan meditates on her family history, her relationship with animals, and her upbringing in the South. Examining memories, family documents, and photographs, Animal Quintet takes a raw look at racial tensions and bourgeois respectability in a region struggling to change.  Famed Southern war horses ridden by Civil War generals, doomed Spanish fighting bulls, the misunderstood possum hunted by generations of Southerners, and the chickens slaughtered by family servants—these animals frame and inform a haunting picture of a doomed childhood in a riven society.

In these stories, Dayan asks readers to envision another political life, a reorientation of our ways of seeing and thinking, to examine our ethical and conceptual assumptions from the perspective of other creatures, to imagine an alternative way of being in the world, of thinking and loving. Animal Quintet is a coming-of-age story that depends on an unexpected attentiveness, on another kind of intelligibility beyond the world of the human.

Praise for Animal Quintet: A Southern Memoir

“Colin Dayan brings a rare combination to her work: a strong mind and an expansive heart.”
Mark Edmundson, University of Virginia. Author of Why Read? and The Death of Sigmund Freud.

“Colin Dayan’s Animal Quintet explores the complexity of race, class, gender and region with relation to animality and history. What is it that we remember of pasts that have receded? What prompts such remembrance? How is the past always made present? Perhaps through feeling, through mood, through song. Focusing on animals and the relations they share with humans, the distinctions between are interrogated and considered and wrestled with and thought about.”
Ashon T. Crawley, Associate Professor of Religious Studies and African American Studies, University of Virginia

“Colin Dayan’s lyrical prose is haunting, it oozes through the hot, humid, and putrid air of the deep South calling her back as if to ask her to finish her thought after all these years. This memoir feels like a lucid dream dipped in magic realism. The languid posture of the mother melts into the bull’s body distorted with pain, meanwhile the crickets are noisily rubbing their legs in anticipation of sex. A mesmerizing tableau.”
Benedicte Boisseron, Professor of Afroamerican and African Studies, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

About The Author

Colin (Joan) Dayan is the Robert Penn Warren Professor in the Humanities at Vanderbilt University. She is the author of Haiti, History, and the Gods, The Story of Cruel and Unusual, The Law is a White Dog, and With Dogs at the Edge of Life. Her memoirs of growing up in Georgia have been published in The Yale Review, Southwest Review, Arizona Quarterly, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and The Boston Review. In 2012 she was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.